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The Mother of Washington 
And Her Times 



The Mother of Washington 

And Her Times 



" That one who breaks the way with tears 
Many shall follow with a song ' 



All rights reserved 


Set up, elect retyped, and published October, 1903. Reprinted 
November, 1903. 

Norwood Press 

J. S. Gushing & Co. Berwick f Smith Co. 
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A. 








Introductory ........ i 


Mary Washington's English Ancestry . . . . II 


The Ball Family in Virginia . . . . . .15 


Coat Armor and the Right to bear it . . .20 


Traditions of Mary Ball's Early Life . . . 25 

Revelations of an Old Will ..... 32 

Mary Ball's Childhood 37 


Good Times in Old Virginia . . . 47 


viii Contents 




Mary Ball's Guardian and her Girlhood . . . -55 


Young Men and Maidens of the Old Dominion . . 58 

The Toast of the Gallants of her Day .... 62 

Her Marriage and Early Life ..... 69 


Birthplace of George Washington ... 75 


The Cherry Tree and Little Hatchet . . . -85 


The Young Widow and her Family .... 90 


Betty Washington, and Weddings in Old Virginia . .102 


Defeat in War : Success in Love . . . . .114 

Contents ix 



In and Around Fredericksburg . . . . .127 


Social Characteristics, Manners, and Customs . . .143 


A True Portrait of Mary Washington . . .167 


Noon in the Golden Age . . . . .186 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races . 197 



The Little Cloud . . 23 1 


The Storm ... 2 45 


Mary Washington in the Hour of Peril . .251 


Old Revolutionary Letters 



The Battle-ground ....... 279 


France in the Revolution . . . . . .289 


" On with the Dance, let Joy be unconfined ' . .304 


Lafayette and our French Allies . . . . .312 


In Camp and at Mount Vernon . . . . .317 


Mrs. Adams at the Court of St. James . . . .327 


The First Winter at Mount Vernon . . . 332 


The President and his Last Visit to his Mother . .340 


Mary Washington's Will ; her Illness and Death . . 347 


Tributes of her Countrymen . . . -353 


Supposed Portrait of Mary Washington . . . Frontispiece 


An Old Doll . 39 

Horn-book . . . . . . . .41 

Ducking-stool ........ 44 

The Old Stone House ...... 45 

William and Mary College .... Facing 59 

Old Yeocomico Church .... " 63 

Monument at Wakefield marking the Birthplace of George 

Washington . . . . . . -75 

George Washington's Apron . . . . .82 

Bewdley . . . . . . Facing 83 

Pohick Church, Mount Vernon, Virginia . . .86 

Mrs. Washington persuades George not to go to Sea . .100 

Kenmore House . . . . . . .103 

The Hall at Kenmore, showing the Clock which belonged 

to Mary Washington . . . . . . ~ 1 1 I 

Nellie Custis ...... Facing i i ^ 

George Washington as Major . . . . .115 

General Braddock . . . . . . .118 

Mount Vernon ...... Facing 120 

St. Peter's Church, in which George Washington was 

married . . . . . . . .123 


xii Illustrations 


Martha Custis . . . . . . Facing 124 

Williamsburg . . . . . , . .124 

"Light-horse Harry" Lee . . . . . 133 

Governor Spotswood . . . . . . .134 

Prince Murat . ...... 140 

Colonel Byrd . . . . . . . .147 

Westover ....... Facing \ 50 

The Kitchen of Mount Vernon . . . . .156 

James Monroe . . . . . . . .165 

Mrs. Charles Carter . . . . . . .177 

Mary Washington's House in Fredericksburg . Facing 183 

Monticello. The Home of Thomas Jefferson . . .188 

The Garden at Mount Vernon . . . Facing 1 89 

Elsing Green . . . . . . . .192 

Mount Airy ...... Facing 192 

Bushrod Washington ....... 206 

Marv Ambler . . . . . . .210 

Chief Justice John Marshall . . . . . .211 

Lord Dunmore . . . . . . . .237 

Robert Carter of Nomini Hall ' . . . .241 

Abigail Adams ........ 248 

Oratory Rock . . . . . . . .260 

Sir William Howe . . . . . . .265 

Major Andre . . . . . . . .270 

Arthur Lee . . . . . . . .274 

Vergennes ........ 289 

Beaumarchais ........ 290 

Silas Deane . . . . . . . .291 

Illustrations xiii 


Benjamin Franklin . . . . . . .292 

General Burgoyne ....... 295 

General Gates . . . . . . . .296 

Rochambeau . . . . . . . .297 

De Grasse . . . . . . . 298 

Lord Cornwallis . . . . . . .300 

Greenway Court ..... Facing 302 

George Washington Parke Custis . . . . .306 

The Chair used by George Washington when Master of 

Fredericksburg Lodge . . . . -307 

General Lafayette ... . Facing 3 1 3 

John Adams ..... .328 

Washington's Reception at Trenton . . . -34-3 

Mary Washington's Monument . . . -357 
The Avenue of Poplars at Nomini Hall .... 363 


Virginia Historical Magazine. 

William and Mary Quarterly. 

Virginia Historical Register. 

Meade's Old Churches and Families of Virginia. 

Campbell's History of Virginia. 

Irving' s Life of Washington. 

Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington. By George 

Washington Parke Custis. 
Cooke's Virginia. 

The Bland Papers. By Campbell. 
Howe's Virginia. 
Journal of Philip Vickars Fithian. 
Towers' s Lafayette. 
Creasy 's Fifteen Decisive Battles. 
Morse's Franklin. 

Lecky's England in the Eighteenth Century. 
Fiske's American Revolution. 
Sparks' s Diplomatic Correspondence. 
Washington's Works. 
Bancroft's History of the United States. 

Life and Letters of George Mason. By Kate Mason Rowland. 


xvi Authorities 

Beaumarchais and his Times. 

Edwardes's Translations of Lemonie. 

Lives of the Chief Justices of England. 

Twining' s Travels in America. 

Burnaby's Travels. 

The Story of Mary Washington. By Marion Harland. 

Randall's Life of Jefferson. 

Worthies of England. By Thomas Fuller. 

Foote's Sketches of Virginia. 

Parton's Franklin. 

A Study in the Warwickshire Dialect. By Appleton Morgan, 

A.M., LL.B. 
Maternal Ancestry of Washington. By G. W. Ball. 


THE author has the honour to acknowledge the loan of portraits 
and engravings, and also valuable unpublished letters and diaries, 
from - 

General G. W. Custis Lee, 

Mrs. E. Parke Custis Lewis, 

Mrs. William Key Howard of Kenmore, 

Mr. Henry Tayloe of Mt. Airy, 

Colonel Samuel M. Blackford, 

Miss Kate Mason Rowland, 

Rev. G. W. Beale, 

Colonel George Washington Ball, 

Mrs. Alice Morse Earle, 

Mr. R. A. Lancaster, Jr. 



The Mother of Washington 
and her Times 



mothers of famous men survive only in 
their sons. This is a rule almost as in- 
variable as a law of nature. Whatever 
the aspirations and energies of the mother, mem- 
orable achievement is not for her. No memoir has 
been written in this country of the women who 
bore, fostered, and trained our great men. What 
do we know of the mother of Daniel Webster, or 
John Adams, or Patrick Henry, or Andrew Jackson, 
or of the mothers of our Revolutionary generals? 

When the American boy studies the history of 
his country, his soul soars within him as he reads 
of his own forefathers : how they rescued a wilder- 
ness from the savage and caused it to bloom into 
fruitful fields and gardens, how they won its in- 
dependence through eight years of hardship and 
struggle, how they assured its prosperity by a wise 
Constitution and firm laws. But he may look in 

2 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

vain for some tribute to the mothers who trained 
his heroes. In his Roman history he finds Cornelia, 
Virginia, Lucretia, and Veturia on the same pages 
with Horatius, Regulus, Brutus, and Cincinnatus. 
If he be a boy of some thought and perception, he 
will see that the early seventeenth century women 
of his own land must have borne a similar relation 
to their country as these women to the Roman Re- 
public. But our histories as utterly ignore them as 
if they never existed. The heroes of our Revolu- 
tion might have sprung armed from the head of 
Jove for aught the American boy can find to the 

Thus American history defrauds these noble 
mothers of their crown -- not self-won, but won 
by their sons. 

Letitia Romolino was known to few, while the 
fame of "Madame Mere" is as universal as the 
glory of Napoleon himself. But Madame Mere 
had her historian. The pioneer woman of America, 
who " broke the way with tears," retires into dark- 
ness and oblivion ; while " many follow with a 
song' the son to whom she gave her life and her 
keen intelligence born of her strong faith and 

Biographers have occasionally seemed to feel that 
something is due the mothers of their heroes. 
Women have some rights after all ! And so we 
can usually find, tucked away somewhere, a short 

Introductory 3 

perfunctory phrase of courtesy, " He is said to have 
inherited many of his qualities from his mother," 
reminding us of "The Ladies -- God bless 'em," 
after everybody else has been toasted at a banquet, 
and just before the toasters are ripe for the song, 
" We won't go home till morning ! ' 

But if we are willing to be appeased by such a 
douceur there is literature galore anent the women 
who have amused "great" men: Helen of Troy, 
Madame de Pompadour, Madame du Barry, Lady 
Hamilton, the Countess Guicciola, and such. We 
may comfort ourselves for this humiliating fact only 
by reflecting that the world craves novelty, and that 
these dames are interesting to the reading public, 
solely because they are exceptional, while the noble, 
unselfish woman, being the rule of motherhood, is 
familiar to every one of us and needs no historian. 

It is the noble, unselfish woman who must shine, 
if she shine at all, by the light reflected from her 
son. Her life, for the most part, must be hidden 
by the obscurity of domestic duties. While herself 
thus inactive and retired, her son is developed for 
glory, and the world is his arena. It is only when 
he reaches renown that she becomes an object of 
attention, but it is then too late to take her measure 
in the plenitude of her powers. Emitting at best 
but a feeble ray, her genius is soon lost in the 
splendor of his meridian. 

Nay more, her reputation is often the sport of a 

4 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

love of contrast, and her simplicity and his magnifi- 
cence the paradox of a gossiping public. 

Mary Washington presents no exception to this 
picture. As the mother of the man who has hitherto 
done most for the good and glory of humanity, the 
details of her life are now of world-wide and enduring 
interest. Those details were lost in the seclusion 
and obscurity of her earlier years or else absorbed 
in the splendor of her later career. It is not deni- 
able, too, that in the absence of authentic information, 
tradition has made free with her name, and has im- 
puted to her motives and habits altogether foreign 
to her real character. The mother of Washington 
was in no sense a commonplace woman. Still less 
was she hard, uncultured, undignified, unrefined. 

The writer hopes to trace the disparaging tradi- 
tions, and to refute them by showing that all the 
known actions of her life were the emanations of a 
noble heart, high courage, and sound understanding. 

" Characters," said the great Englishman who 
lived in her time, "should never be given by an 
historian unless he knew the people whom he de- 
scribes, or copies from those who knew them." " A 
hard saying for picturesque writers of history," says 
Mr. Augustine Birrell, who knows so well how to be 
picturesque and yet faithful to the truth. Even he 
laments how little we can know of a dead man we 
never saw. " His books, if he wrote books, will 
tell us something ; his letters, if he wrote any, and 

Introductory 5 

they are preserved, may perchance fling a shadow 
on the sheet for a moment or two ; a portrait if 
painted in a lucky hour may lend a show of sub- 
stance to our dim surmisings ; the things he did 
must carefully be taken into account, but as a man 
is much more than the mere sum of his actions 
even these cannot be relied upon with great con- 
fidence. For the purpose, therefore, of getting at 
any one's character, the testimony of those who 
knew the living man is of all the material likely to 
be within our reach the most useful." 

How truly the words of this brilliant writer apply 
to the ensuing pages will be apparent to every in- 
telligent reader. No temptation has availed with 
the compiler to accept any, the most attractive, 
theory or tradition. The testimony of those who 
knew Mary Washington is the groundwork of the 
picture, and controls its every detail. 

A few years ago an episode of interest was awak- 
ened in Mary Washington's life. There was a de- 
cided Mary Washington Renaissance. She passed 
this way --as Joan of Arc --as Napoleon Bona- 
parte, Burns, Emerson, and others pass. A society 
of women banded themselves together into a Mary 
Washington Memorial Association. Silver and gold 
medals bearing her gentle, imagined face were struck 
off, and when the demand for them was at its 
height, their number was restricted to six hundred, 
to be bequeathed for all time from mother to daugh- 

6 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

ter, the pledge being a perpetual vigil over the tomb 
of Mary Washington, thus forming a Guard of 
Honor of six hundred American women. The Prin- 
cess Eulalia of Spain, and Maria Pilar Colon, a de- 
scendant of Christopher Columbus, were admitted 
into this Guard of Honor, and wear its insignia. 

This " Renaissance" grew out of an advertisement 
in the Washington papers to the effect that the 
"Grave of Mary, the Mother of General Washing- 
ton," was to be "sold at Public Auction, the same 
to be offered at Public Outcry," under the shadow 
of the monument erected in her son's honor, and in 
the city planned by him and bearing his name. 

A number of the descendants of Mary Washing- 
ton's old Fredericksburg neighbors assembled the 
next summer at the White Sulphur Springs in Vir- 
ginia. It was decided that a ball be given at the 

O O 

watering-place to aid the noble efforts of the widow 
of Chief Justice Waite to avert the disaster, purchase 
the park, and erect a monument over the ashes of 
the mother of Washington. One of the guests was 
selected to personate her : General Fitzhugh Lee to 
represent her son George. 

A thousand patrons assured the success of the 
ball. They wore Mary Washington's colors blue 
and white and assumed the picturesque garb of 
pre-Revolutionary days. The bachelor governor of 
New York, learning what was toward with these fair 
ladies, sent his own state flag to grace the occasion, 

Introductory 7 

and its snow-white folds mingled with the blue of 
the state banner contributed by the governor of 

The gowns of the Virginia beauties were yellow 
with age, and wrinkled from having been hastily 
exhumed from the lavender-scented chests ; for 
when lovely Juliet Carter chose the identical gown 
of her great, great grandmother, - -blue brocade, 
looped over a white satin quilted petticoat, the 
genuine example was followed by all the rest. The 
Madam Washington of the hour was strictly taken 
in hand by the Fredericksburg contingent. Her 
kerchief had been worn at the Fredericksburg Peace 
Ball, her mob cap was cut by a pattern preserved by 
Mary Washington's old neighbors. There were 
mittens, a reticule, and a fan made of the bronze 
feathers of the wild turkey of Virginia. Standing 
with her son George in the midst of the old-time 
assembly, old-time music in the air, old-time pictures 
on the walls, Madam Washington received her 
guests and presented them to her son, whose minia- 
ture she wore on her bosom. " I am glad to 
meet your son, Madam Washington!" said pretty 
Ellen Lee, as she dropped her courtesy ; " I always 
heard he was a truthful child ! 

The lawn and cloister-like corridors of the large 
hotel were crowded at an early hour with the 
country people, arriving on foot, on horseback, and 
in every vehicle known to the mountain roads. 

8 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

These rustic folk weather-beaten, unkempt old 
trappers and huntsmen, with their sons and daugh- 
ters, wives and little children gathered in the 
verandas and filled the windows of the ball-room. 
When the procession made the rounds of the room 
the comments of the holders of the window-boxes 
were not altogether flattering. The quaint dress of 
"the tea-cup time of hoop and hood" was disap- 
pointing. They had expected a glimpse of the 
latest fashions of the metropolis. 

" I don't think much of that Mrs. Washington," 
said one. 

" Well," drawled another, a wiry old graybeard, 
" she looks quiet and peaceable ! The ole one 
was a tumble ole woman ! My grandfather's father 
used to live close to ole Mrs. Washington. The 
ole man used to say she would mount a stool 
to rap her man on the head with the smoke-'ouse 
key ! She was that little, an' hot-tempered." 

"That was Martha Washington, grandfather," 
corrected a girl who had been to school in Lewis- 
burg. " She was the short one." 

" Well, Martha or Mary, it makes no differ," 
grimly answered the graybeard. " They was 
much of a muchness to my thinkin'," and this 
was the first of the irreverent traditions which 
caught the ear of the writer, and led to investi- 
gation. They cropped up fast enough from many 
a dark corner ! 

Introductory g 

About this time many balls and costume enter- 
tainments were given to aid the monument fund. 
There were charming garden parties to 

" Bring back the hour 
Of glory in the grass and splendor in the flower," 

when the Mother of Washington was beautiful, 
young, and happy. A notable theatrical entertain- 
ment, the " Mary Washington matinee," was ar- 
ranged by Mrs. Charles Avery Doremus, the clever 
New York playwright. The theatre was hung with 
colors lent by the Secretary of the Navy, the order 
therefor signed by " George Dewey." Everybody 
wore the Mary Washington colors --as did Adelina 
Patti, who flashed from her box the perennial smile 
we are yet to see again. Despite the hydra-headed 
traditions the Mother of Washington had her 

Brought face to face with my reader, and devoutly 
praying I may hold his interest to the end, I wish I 
could spare him every twice-told tale - - every dull 

But " we are made of the shreds and patches of 
many ancestors." What we are we owe to them. 
God forbid we should inherit and repeat all their 
actions ! The courage, the fortitude, the persistence, 
are what we inherit- -not the deeds through which 
they were expressed. A successful housebreaker's 
courage may blossom in the valor of a descendant 

io The Mother of Washington and her Times 

on the field who has been trained in a better school 
than his ancestor. 

Dull as the public is prone to regard genealogical 
data, the faithful biographer is bound to give them. 

And therefore the reader must submit to an intro- 
duction to the Ball family, otherwise he cannot un- 
derstand the Mother of Washington or Washington 
himself. One of them, perhaps the one most 
deserving eminence through her own beneficence, 
we cannot place exactly in our records. She was an 
English "Dinah Morris," and her name was Hannah 
Ball. She was the originator of Sunday-schools, 
holding her own school in 1772, twelve years before 
the reputed founder, Robert Raikes, established 
Sunday-schools;in England. 




"A HE family of Ball from which Mary, the 
mother of Washington, descended, can be 
traced in direct line only as far back as the 
year 1480. They came originally from " Barkham, 
anciently ' Boercham ' ; noted as the spot at which 
William the Conqueror paused on his devastating 
march from the bloody field of Hastings r 1 ' wasting 
ye land, burning ye towns and sleaing (sic) ye peo- 
ple till he came to Boerchum where he stayed his 
ruthless hand.' 

In the " History of the Ball family of Barkham, 
Comitatis Berks, taken from the Visitation Booke 
of London marked O. 24, in the College of Arms," 
we find that " William Ball, Lord of the Manor of 
Barkham, Com. Berks, died in the year 1480." 
From this William Ball, George Washington was 
eighth in direct descent. 

The entry in the old visitation book sounds im- 
posing, but Barkham was probably a small town 
nestled amid the green hills of Berkshire, whose 
beauty possibly so reminded the Conqueror of his 

l The Maternal Ancestry of Washington, by George Washington Ball. 


12 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Normandy that " he stayed his ruthless hand." A 
century ago it was a village of some fifty houses 
attached to the estate of the Levison Gowers. 

There is no reason to suppose that the interven- 
ing Balls in the line, Robert, William, two Johns, 
all of whom lived in Barkham, or the William of 
Lincoln's Inn, who became " attorney in the Office 
of Pleas in the Exchequer," were men of wealth or 
rank. The "getting of gear was never," said one 
of their descendants, " a family trait, nor even the 
ability to hold it when gotten " : but nowhere is it 
recorded that they ever wronged man or woman in 
the getting. They won their worldly goods honor- 
ably, used them beneficently, and laid them down 
cheerfully when duty to king or country demanded 
the sacrifice, and when it pleased God to call them 
out of the world. They were simply men " doing 
their duty in their day and generation and deserving 
well of their fellows." 

They belonged to the Landed Gentry of Eng- 
land. This does not presuppose their estates to 
have been extensive. A few starved acres of land 
sufficed to class them among the Landed Gentry, 
distinguishing them from laborers. As such they 
may have been entitled to the distinction of " Gen- 
tleman," the title in England next lowest to "Yeo- 
man." No one of them had ever bowed his 
shoulders to the royal accolade, nor held even the 
position of esquire to a baronet. But the title 

Mary Washington's English Ancestry 13 

" Gentleman ' was a social distinction of value. 
" Ordinarily the King," says Sir Thomas Smith, 
"doth only make Knights and create Barons or 
higher degrees ; as for gentlemen, they be made good 
cheap in this Kingdom ; for whosoever studieth the 
laws of the realm, who studieth in the universities, 
who professeth the liberal sciences, he shall be 
taken for a gentleman ; for gentlemen be those 
whom their blood and race doth make noble and 
known." By "a gentleman born' was usually 
understood the son of a gentleman by birth, and 
grandson of a gentleman by position. " It takes 
three generations to make a gentleman," we say 
to-day, and this seems to have been an ancient 
rule in England. 

The Balls might well be proud to belong to old 
England's middle classes - - her landed, untitled 
Gentry. A few great minds - - Lord Francis Veru- 
lam, for instance - - came from her nobility ; and 
some gifted writers --the inspired dreamer, for 
instance- -from her tinkers and tradesmen; but 
the mighty host of her scholars, poets, and philoso- 
phers belonged to her middle classes. They sent 
from their ranks Shakespeare and Milton, Locke and 
Sir Isaac Newton, Gibbon, Dryden, " old Sam John- 
son," Pope, Macaulay, Stuart Mill, Huxley, Darwin, 
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Burke, Disraeli, Cowper, 
Sir William Blackstone, and nearly all of the Chief 
Justices of England. These are but a few of the 

14 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

great names that shine along the ranks of England's 
middle classes. 

Many of these men were called to the foot of the 
throne by a grateful sovereign to receive some dis- 
tinction, so paltry by comparison with glory of 
their own earning, and among them came one day 
an ancestor of the mother of George Washington. 
Who he was we know not, nor vet what had been 


his service to his country ; but he was deemed 
worthy to bear upon his shield a lion rampant, the 
most honorable emblem of heraldry, and the lion's 
paws held aloft a ball ! This much we know of him, 
that in addition to his valor and fidelity he pos- 
sessed a poet's soul. He chose for the motto, the 
cri de guerre of his clan, a suggestive phrase from 
these lines of Ovid : 

" He gave to man a noble countenance and com- 
manded him to gaze upon the heavens, and to carry 
his looks upward to the stars." 




first of the family of Ball to come to 
Virginia was William Ball, who settled in 
Lancaster County in 1650. He was the 
son of the attorney of Lincoln's Inn. He emi- 
grated, with other cavaliers because of the over- 
throw of the royal house and the persecution of its 

Before this time one John Washington, an Eng- 
lishman and a loyalist, had settled in Westmoreland. 
He became a man of influence in the colony, rising 
rapidly from major to colonel, justice of Westmore- 
land, and member of the House of Burgesses; accept- 
ing positions under the Commonwealth, as did others 
of King Charles's adherents ; doing their duty under 
the present conditions, and consoling themselves by 
calling everything- -towns, counties, rivers, and their 
own sons - - after the " Martyred Monarch" ; and in 
rearing mulberry trees and silkworms to spin the 
coronation robe of purple for the surely coming time 
of the Restoration. 

John Washington married three times, --two 
Annes and one Frances,- -and, innocently uncon- 

1 6 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

scious of the tremendous importance to future his- 
torians of his every action, he neglected to place 
on record the date of these events. In his day a 


woman appeared before the public only three times, 
- at her baptism, marriage, and death. But one of 
Colonel Washington's wives emerges bravely from 
obscurity. A bold sinner and hard swearer, having 
been arraigned before her husband, she was minded 
to improve her opportunity ; and the Westmoreland 
record hath it that " Madam Washington said to 
ye prisoner, c if you were advised by yr wife, you 
need not acome to this passe,' and he answered, 

having the courage of his convictions, ' my 

wife ! If it were to doe, I would do it againe.' 

And so no more of Madam Washington ! This 
trouble had grown out of what was characterized as 
" ye horrid, traiterous, and rebellious practices" of a 
young Englishman on the James River, whose only 
fault lay in the unfortunate circumstance of his hav- 
ing been born a hundred years too soon. Bacon's 
cause had been just, and he was eloquent enough 
and young and handsome enough to draw all men's 
hearts to himself, but his own was stilled in death 
before he could right his neighbors' wrongs. 

And now, the Fates that move the pieces on the 
chess-board of life ordained that two prophetic names 
should appear together to suppress the first rebellion 
against the English government. When the Grand 
Assembly cast about for loyal men and true to lay 

The Ball Family in Virginia 17 

" a Levy in ye Northern Necke for ye charges in 
Raisinge ye forces thereof for suppressing ye late Re- 
bellion," the lot fell on " Coll. John Washington and 
Coll: W m . Ball," the latter journeying up from his 
home in Lancaster to meet Colonel Washington at 
Mr. Beale's, in Westmoreland. 

Colonel Ball's Lancaster home was near the old 
White Chapel church, around which are clustered 
a large number of strong, heavy tombstones which 
betoken to-day " a deep regard of the living for the 

Almost all of them are inscribed with the name of 
Ball. In their old vestry books are stern records. A 
man was fined five thousand pounds of tobacco for 
profane swearing ; unlucky John Clinton, for some 
unmentioned misdemeanor, was required four times 
to appear on bended knees and four times to ask 
pardon. As late as 1727 men were presented for 
drunkenness, for being absent one month from 
church, for swearing, for selling crawfish and 
posting accounts on Sunday. "And in addition 
to above," adds Bishop Meade, " the family of 
Ball was very active in promoting good things," 
as well as zealous in the punishment of evil. Overt 
acts swearing, fishing on Sunday, absence from 
church- -could easily be detected and punished. 
But how about drunkenness ? There are degrees of 
intoxication. At what point was it punishable ? 

An old Book of Instructions settled the matter. 

1 8 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" Where ye same legges which carry a Man into a 
house cannot bring him out againe, it is Sufficient 
Sign of Drunkennesse." 

The descendants of William Ball held good posi- 
tions in the social life of the colony. Their names 
appear in Bishop Meade's list of vestrymen, as 
founders and patrons of the Indian schools, and 
fourteen times in the House of Burgesses. They 
intermarried with the leading families in Virginia ; 
and the Balls, in great numbers, settled the counties 
of Lancaster, Northumberland, Westmoreland, and 
Stafford. They are not quoted as eminent in the 
councils of the time, or as distinguished in letters. 
That they were good citizens is more to their credit 
than that they should have rilled prominent official 
positions ; for high offices have been held by men 
who were not loyal to their trusts, and even genius 

-that beacon of light in the hands of true men- 
has been a torch of destruction in those of the 

They, like their English ancestors, bore for their 
arms a lion rampant holding a ball, and for their 
motto Ctelumque tueri^ taken, as we have said, from 
these lines of Ovid : 

" Os homini sublime dedit, caslumque tueri 
Jussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus." 

The rampant lion holding the ball appears on an 
armorial document belonging to the first emigrant. 

The Ball Family in Virginia 19 

On the back of this document are the following 
words, written in the round, large script of those 
days, which, whatever it left undone, permitted no 
possible doubt of the meaning it meant to convey : 

"The Coat of Arms of Colonel William Ball, 
who came from England about the year 1650, leav- 
ing two sons William of Millenbeck [the paternal 
seat] and Joseph of Epping Forest and one 
daughter, Hannah, who married Daniel Fox. . . . 
Joseph's male issue is extinct." 

George Washington was the grandson of this 
Joseph Ball through his youngest daughter Mary. 
She was born at Epping Forest, in Lancaster, Vir- 
ginia, in 1708, and "not as is persistently stated by 
careless writers on Nov : 3Oth 1706 a year before 
her parents were married." 

1 Horace Edwin Hayden in William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. iii, p. 74. 



BISHOP Meade says of William Ball's coat 
of arms : " There is much that is bold 
about it : as a lion rampant with a globe in 
his paw, with helmet, shield and visor, and other 
things betokening strength and courage, but none 
these things suit of my work ! There is, however, 
one thing that does. On a scroll are these words, 
Ccelum tueril May it be a memento to all his 
posterity to look upward and seek the things which 
are above ! ' 

The Bishop attached, probably, more importance 
to the heraldic distinction than did the mother of 
Washington. Virginia families used the arms to 
which they had a right with no thought of ostenta- 
tion- -simply as something belonging to them, as a 
matter of course. They sealed their deeds and con- 
tracts with their family crest and motto, displayed 
their arms on the panels of their coaches, carved 
them on their gate-posts and on the tombstones of 
their people ; for such had been the custom in the 
old country which they fondly called " home." 

J J * 


Coat Armor and the Right to Bear it 21 

The pedigrees and coats of arms of the families, 
from which Mary Ball and her illustrious son de- 
scended, have been much discussed by historians. 
" Truly has it been said that all the glories of ances- 
tral escutcheons are so overshadowed by the deeds 
of Washington that they fade into insignificance ; 
that a just democracy, scornful of honors not self- 
won, pays its tribute solely to the man, the woman, 
and the deed ; that George Washington was great 
because he stood for the freedom of his people, and 
Mary Washington was great because she implanted 
in his youthful breast righteous indignation against 
wrong, which must ever be the inspiration of the 
hero. And yet the insignia of a noble name, 
handed down from generation to generation, and 
held up as an incentive to integrity and valor, may 
well be cherished." The significance of the shield 
granted as reward, and the sentiment chosen as the 
family motto, are not to be ignored. The shield 
witnesses a sovereign's appreciation ; the motto 
affords a key-note to the aspirations of the man who 
chose it. Not of the women ! for only under limi- 
tations could women use the shield ; the motto 
they were forbidden to use at all. Mottoes often 
expressed lofty sentiments. Witness a few taken 
from Virginia families of English descent : Malo 
mori quam foedari. Sperate et Virile Fortes (Bland), 
Sine Deo Cares (Gary), Qstendo non ostento 
(I sham), Reve et Revele (Atkinson), etc. 

22 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

At the present moment the distinction of a coat 
of arms is highly esteemed in this country. Fami- 
lies of English descent can always find a shield or 
crest on some branch, more or less remote, of the 
Family Tree. The title to these arms may have 
long been extinct- -but who will take the trouble to 
investigate ? The American cousin scorns and defies 
rules of heraldry ! To be sure, he would prefer as- 
suming a shield once borne by some ancestor, but if 
that be impossible, he is quite capable of marshalling 
his arms to suit himself. Is not "a shield of pre- 
tence " arms which a lord claims and which he adds 
to his own ? Thus it comes to pass that the crest, 
hard won in deadly conflict, and the motto once the 
challenging battle-cry, find themselves embalmed in 
the perfume of a fine lady's tinted billet, or proudly 
displayed on the panels of her park equipage. Thus 
is many a hard-won crest and proud escutcheon of 
old England made to suffer the extreme penalty of 
the English law, " drawn and quartered,"and dragged 
captive in boastful triumph at the chariot wheels 
of the Great Obscure ! They can be made to 
order by any engraver. They are used, unchal- 
lenged, by any and every body willing to pay 
for them. 

It may, therefore, be instructive to turn the pages 
of old Thomas Fuller's " Worthies of England," 
and learn the rigid laws governing the use of arms 
by these " Worthies." 

Coat Armor and the Right to Bear it 23 

The " fixing of hereditary arms in England was 
a hundred years ancienter than Richard the Sec- 
ond" in 1277, therefore. Before his second 
invasion into France, Henry V issued a proclama- 
tion to the sheriffs to this effect : " Because there 
are divers men who have assumed to themselves 
arms and coat-armours where neither they nor their 
ancestors in times past used such arms or coat- 
armours, all such shall show cause on the day of 
muster why he useth arms and by virtue of whose 
gift he enjoyeth the same : those only excepted 
who carried arms with us at the battle of Agin- 
court ; " and all detected frauds were to be pun- 
ished " with the loss of wages, as also the rasing 
out and breaking off of said arms called coat- 
armours --and this," adds his Majesty, with em- 
phasis, " you shall in no case omit." 

By a later order there was a more searching 
investigation into the right to bear arms. A high 
heraldic officer, usually one of the kings-at-arms, 
was sent into all the counties to examine the 
pedigrees of the landed gentry, with a view of 
ascertaining whether the arms borne by them were 
unwarrantably assumed. The king-at-arms was 
accompanied on such occasions by secretaries or 
draftsmen. The " Herald's Visitations," as they 
were termed, were regularly held as early as 1433, 
and until between 1686 and 1700. Their object 
was by no means to create coats of arms but to 

24 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

reject the unauthorized, and confirm and verify 
those that were authentic. Thus the arms of the 
Ball and Washington families had been subjected 
to strict scrutiny before being registered in the 
Heralds' College. They could not have been un- 
lawfully assumed by the first immigrant, nor would 
he, while living in England, have been allowed to 
mark his property or seal his papers with those 
arms nor use them in any British colony. 



OF the ancestry of Mary Washington's mother 
nothing is known. She was the " Widow 
Johnson," said to have descended from 
the Montagus of England, and supposed to have 
been a housekeeper in Joseph Ball's family, and 
married to him after the death of his first wife. 
Members of the Ball family, after Mary Washing- 
ton's death, instituted diligent search to discover 
something of her mother's birth and lineage. Their 
inquiries availed to show that she was an English- 
woman. No connection of hers could be found in 
Virginia. Since then, eminent historians and gene- 
alogists, notably Mr. Hayden and Mr. Moncure 
Conway, have given time and research " to the most 
important problem in Virginia genealogy, Who 
and whence was Mary Johnson, widow, mother of 
Mary Washington ? ' The Montagu family has 
claimed her and discovered that the griffin of the 
house of Montagu sometimes displaced the raven 
in General Washington's crest ; and it was asserted 
that the griffin had been discovered perched upon 
the tomb of one Katharine Washington, at Pianka- 


26 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

tank. To verify this, the editor of the William and 
Mary Quarterly journeyed to the tomb of Katharine, 
and found the crest to be neither a raven or a griffin 
but a wolf's head ! 

It matters little whether or no the mother of 
Washington came of noble English blood ; for 
while an honorable ancestry is a gift of the gods, 
and should be regarded as such by those who pos- 
sess it, an honorable ancestry is not merely a titled 
ancestry. Descent from nobles may be interesting, 
but it can only be honorable when the strawberry 
leaves have crowned a wise head and the ermine 
warmed a true heart. Three hundred years ago an 
English wit declared that " Noblemen have seldom 
anything in print save their clothes." 

Knowing that Mary Johnson was an English- 
woman, we might, had we learned her maiden name, 
have rejoiced in tracing her to some family of posi- 
tion, learning, or wealth ; for position and learning 
are desirable gifts, and wealth has been, and ever 
will be, a synonym of power. It can buy the title 
and command genius. It can win friendship, pour 
sunshine into dark places, cause the desert to 
bloom. It can prolong and sweeten life, and alle- 
viate the pangs of death. 

These brilliant settings, for the woman we would 
fain honor, are denied us. That she was a jewel in 
herself, there can be no doubt. We must judge of 
her as we judge of a tree by its fruits ; as we 

Traditions of Mary Ball's Early Life 27 

judge a fountain by the streams issuing there- 
from. She was the mother of a great woman 
" whose precepts and discipline in the education of 
her illustrious son, himself acknowledged to have 
been the foundation of his fortune and fame: a 
woman who possessed not the ambitions which are 
common to meaner minds." This was said of her 
by one who knew Mary, the mother of Washing- 
ton, Mary, the daughter of the obscure Widow 

Indeed, she was so obscure that the only clew we 
have to her identity as Joseph Ball's wife is found 
in a clause of his will written June 25, 1711, a 
few weeks before his death, where he mentions 
" Eliza Johnson, daughter of my beloved wife." 

Until a few months ago it was supposed that 
Mary Ball spent her childhood and girlhood at 
Epping Forest, in Lancaster County; that she had 
no schooling outside her home circle until her 
seventeenth year; that she visited Williamsburg with 
her mother about that time; that in 1728 her 
mother died, and she went to England to visit her 
brother Joseph, a wealthy barrister in London. 
Her biographers accepted these supposed facts and 
wove around them an enthusiastic romance. They 
indulged in fancies of her social triumphs in Will- 
iamsburg, the gay capital of the colony ; of her 
beauty, her lovers ; how she was the " Rose of 
Epping Forest," the " Toast of the Gallants of 

28 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

her Day." They followed her to England, - 
whence also Augustine Washington was declared 
to have followed her, - - sat with her for her por- 
trait, and brought her back either the bride, or soon 
to become the bride, of Augustine Washington ; 
brought back also the portrait, and challenged the 
world to disprove the fact that it must be genuine 
and a capital likeness, for had it not " George 
Washington's cast of countenance " ? 

The search-light of investigation had been turned 
in vain upon the county records of Lancaster. 
There she had not left even a fairy footprint. 
What joy then to learn the truth from an acci- 
dental discovery by a Union soldier of a bundle of 
old letters in an abandoned house in Yorktown at 
the close of the Civil War ! These letters seemed 
to lift the veil of obscurity from the youthful un- 
married years of Mary, the mother of Washington. 
The first letter is from Williamsburg, 1722 : 

"Dear Sukey Madam Ball of Lancaster and her sweet 
Molly have gone Horn. Mama thinks Molly the Comli- 
est Maiden She Knows. She is about 16 yrs. old, is taller 
than Me, is verry Sensable, Modest and Loving. Her 
Hair is like unto Flax. Her Eyes are the colour of Yours, 
and her Chekes are like May blossoms. I wish You 
could see Her." 

A letter was also found purporting to have been 
written by Mary herself to her brother in England ; 

Traditions of Mary Ball's Early Life 29 

defective in orthography, to be sure, but written in a 
plain, round hand : 

" We have not had a schoolmaster in our neighborhood 
until now in five years. We have now a young minister 
living with us who was educated at Oxford, took orders 
and came over as assistant to Rev. Kemp at Gloucester. 
That parish is too poor to keep both, and he teaches school 
for his board. He teaches Sister Susie and me, and Madam 
Carter's boy and two girls. I am now learning pretty fast. 
Mama and Susie and all send love to you and Mary. This 
from your loving sister, 

Mary Ball." 

The fragment of another letter was found by the 
Union soldier. This letter is signed " Lizzie 
Burwell " and written to " Nelly Car ," but here, 
alas ! the paper is torn. Only a part of a sentence 
can be deciphered. " . . . understand Molly Ball 
is going Home with her Brother, a lawyer who lives 
in England. Her Mother is dead three months 
ago." The date is "May ye I5th, 1728," and 
Mary Ball is now twenty years old. 

Could any admiring biographer ask more ? 
Flaxen hair, May blossoms delightful suggestion 
of Virginia peach-blooms, flowering almond, hedge 
roses ! " Sensible, Modest, and Loving ! ' What 
an enchanting picture of the girlhood of the most 
eminent of American women ! The flying steeds of 
imagination were given free rein. Away they went ! 
They bore her to the gay life in Williamsburg, then 

30 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

the provincial capital and centre of fashionable 
society in the Old Dominion. There she rode in 
the heavy coaches drawn by four horses, lumbering 
through the dusty streets : or she paid her morning 
visits in the sedan-chairs, with tops hitherto flat but 
now beginning to arch to admit the lofty head- 
dresses of the dames within. She met, perhaps, the 
haughty soldier ex-Governor, who could show a 
ball which had passed through his coat at Blenheim : 
and also her Serene Highness, Lady Spotswood, 
immortalized by William Byrd as " gracious, mod- 
erate, and good-humored." Who had not heard of 
her pier glasses broken by the tame deer and how 
he fell back upon a table laden with rare bric-a-brac 
to the great damage thereof! Along with the 
records of the habeas corpus, tiffs with the burgesses, 
the smelting of iron, the doughty deeds of the 
Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, invariable mention 
had been made of this disaster, and of the fact that 
the gracious Lady Spotswood " bore it with mod- 
eration and good-humor." This sublime example 
might have had some influence in moulding the 
manners of Mary Ball one of whose crowning 
characteristics was a calm self-control, never shaken 
by the most startling events ! 

And then we took ship and sailed away with our 
heroine to England- -Augustine Washington, as 
became an ardent lover, following ere long. Anon, 
we bore her, a happy bride, home again, bringing 

Traditions of Mary Ball's Early Life 31 

with, her a great treasure, a portrait true to the 
life, every feature bearing the stamp of genuineness. 
Through how many pages did we gladly amplify 
this, chilled somewhat by fruitless searches for 
" Sister Susie " ! " Never," said an eminent geneal- 
ogist, " never reject or lose tradition. Keep it, 
value it, record it as tradition;" but surely this was 
not tradition. It was documentary evidence, 
but evidence rudely overthrown by another docu- 
ment, a dry old yellow will lately found by the 
Rev. G. W. Beale in the archives of Northumber- 
land County, in Virginia. 




"^HE old will proves beyond all question 
that Mary Ball's girlhood was not passed 
in Lancaster, that she had ample opportu- 
nity for education, and was, therefore, not untaught 
until she was sixteen. She, probably, never visited 
Williamsburg when seventeen, certainly never 
with her mother. There never was a Sister Susie ! 
At the time the Williamsburg letter announced the 
recent death of her mother, that mother had for 
many years been sleeping quietly in her grave. 
Moreover, the letter of Mary herself had done a 
great injustice to Gloucester parish, which was not a 
"poor parish" at all with an impecunious curate 
working for his board but a parish erecting at 
that moment so fine a church that Bishop Meade's 
pious humility suffered in describing it. 

From Dr. Beale's researches we learn that the 
" Rose of Epping Forest " was a tiny bud indeed 
when her father died ; that before her fifth birthday 
her mother had married Captain Richard Hewes, a 
vestryman of St. Stephen's parish, Northumber- 
land, and removed to that parish with her three 


Revelations of an Old Will 33 

children, John and Elizabeth Johnson, and our own 
little Mary Ball. 

In 1713, Captain Hewes died, and his inventory 
was filed by his "widow, Mary Hewes," who also 
died in the summer of 1721. " It is seldom," says 
Dr. Beale, 1 commenting upon her last will and testa- 
ment, " that in a document of this kind, maternal 
affection having other and older children to 
share its bequests so concentrates itself upon a 
youngest daughter, and she a child of thirteen sum- 
mers. Perhaps of all the tributes laid at the feet of 
Mary Washington, none has been more heart-felt 
or significant of her worth than legacies of her moth- 
er's last will and testament, written as they were, all 
unconsciously of her future distinction." The will 
discovered by the Rev. G. W. Beale settles all con- 
troversies. For the benefit of those who must see 
in order to believe, we copy it verbatim. 

" In the name of God Amen, the seventeenth Day 
December in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hun- 
dred and twenty. 

" I Mary Hewes of St. Stephen's Parish, Northumberland 
County, widow, being sick and weak in body but of sound 
and perfect memory, thanks be to Almighty God for the 
same, and calling to mind the uncertain state of this tran- 
sitory life, and that the flesh must yield unto Death, when 
it shall please God to call, do make and ordain this my 
last will and Testament. 

1 Rev : G. W. Beale in the Virginia Historical Magazine. 

34 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" First, I give and bequeath my soul (to God) that gave it 
me, and my body to the Earth to be buried in Decent 
Christian burial at the discretion of my executors in these 


presents nominated. And as touching such Worldly estate 
which it hath pleased God to bestow upon me, I give, de- 
vise and dispose of in the following manner and form. 
Imprimis, I give and devise unto my Daughter Mary Ball 
one young likely negro woman to be purchased for her 
out of my Estate by my Executors and to be delivered 
unto her the said Mary Ball at the age of Eighteen years, 
but, my will is that if the said Mary Ball should dye with- 
out Issue lawfully begotten of her body that the said 
negro woman with her increase shall return to my loving 
son John Johnson to him, his heirs and assigns forever. 

" Item. I give and bequeath unto my said Daughter Mary 
Ball two gold rings, the one being a large hoop and the 
other a stoned ring. 

" Item. I give unto my said Daughter Mary Ball one 
young mare and her increase which said mare I formerly 
gave her by word of mouth. 

" Item. I give and bequeath unto my said Daughter Mary 
Ball sufficient furniture for the bed her father Joseph Ball 
left her, vizt : One suit of good curtains and fallens, one 
Rugg, one Quilt, one pair Blankets. 

u Item. I give and bequeath unto my said Daughter Mary 
Ball two Diaper Table clothes marked M. B. with inck; 
and one Dozen of Diaper napkins, two towels, six plates, 
two pewter dishes, two basins, one large iron pott, one 
Frying pan, one old trunk. 

" Item. I give and bequeath unto my said Daughter Mary 
Ball, one good young Paceing horse together with a good 
silk plush side saddle to be purchased by my Executors out 
of my Estate. 

Revelations of an Old Will 35 

" Item. I give and bequeath unto my Daughter Elizabeth 
Bonum one suit of white and black callico, being part of 
my own wearing apparel. 

u Item. All the rest of my wearing apparel I give and 
bequeath unto my said Daughter Mary Ball, and I do 
hereby appoint her (to) be under Tutiledge and govern- 
ment of Capt. George Eskridge during her minority. 

" Item. My will is I do hereby oblige my Executors to 
pay to the proprietor or his agent for the securing of my 
said Daughter Mary Ball her land Twelve pounds if so 
much (be) due. 

" Item. All the rest of my Estate real and personal what- 
soever and wheresoever I give and devise unto my son 
John Johnson, and to his heirs lawfully to "be begotten of 
his body, and for default of such Issue I give and devise 
the said Estate unto my Daughter Elizabeth Bonum, her 
heirs and assigns forever. 

" Item. I do hereby appoint my son John Johnson and 
my trusty and well beloved friend George Eskridge Exec- 
utors of this my last will and Testament and also revoke 
and Disannul all other former wills or Testaments by me 
heretofore made or caused to be made either by word or 
writing, ratifying and confirming this to be my last Will 
and Testament and no other. 

u In witness whereof I have hereunto sett my hand and 
seal the Day and Date at first above written. 

" The mark and seal of Mary III Hewes. Sig. (Seal) 
Signed, Sealed and Published and Declared by Mary Hewes 
to be her last Will and Testament in presence of us. 
" The mark of Robert x Bradley. 
" The mark of Ralph x Smithurst 

" David Stranghan." 

36 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

The chief witness to this will was a teacher of no 
mean repute who lived near Mrs. Hewes, "And," 
says Dr. Beale, " others might be named who fol- 
lowed the same calling in Mary Ball's girlhood and 
near her home." 

The son, John Johnson, named as joint executor 
in his mother's will, died very soon after her. His 
will and hers were recorded on the same day. The 
first bequest reveals his affection for his little 


Imprimis. I give and bequeath unto my sister Mary 
Ball all my land in Stafford which my father-in-law Rich- 
ard Hewes gave me, to the said Mary Ball and her heirs 
lawfully to be begotten of her body forever." 

The will of Samuel Bonum, husband of the 
" Elizabeth " mentioned in Mrs. Hewes's will, was 
probated in Westmoreland, Feb. 22, 1726, and 
contains an item bequeathing " to my sister-in-law 
Mary Ball, my young dapple gray riding horse." 
Mary Ball was then eighteen years old. 

So it appears that the mother of Washington, 
although not rich, according to the standard of that 
day or this, was fairly well endowed with Virginia 
real estate. Also that she owned three or more 
riding-horses, her own maid, a few jewels, and 
house plenishing sufficient for the station of a lady 
in her day and generation. 



IT is easy to imagine the childhood of Mary 
Ball. Children in her day escaped from the 
nursery at an early age. They were not hid- 
den away in convents or sent to finishing schools. 
There were no ostentatious debuts, no " coming-out 
teas." As soon as a girl was fairly in her " teens " 
she was marriageable. 

Little girls, from early babyhood, became the con- 
stant companions of their mothers, and were treated 
with respect. Washington writes gravely of " Miss 
Custis," six years old. They worked samplers, 
learned to edge handkerchiefs with a wonderful 
imitation of needle-point, plaited lace-strings for 
stays, twisted the fine cords that drew into proper 
bounds the stiff bodices, knitted garters and long 
hose, took lessons on the harpsichord, danced the 
minuet, and lent their little hands to "clap muslins" 
on the great clearstarching days, when the lace 
" steenkirk," and ruffled bosoms, and ample ker- 
chiefs, were "gotten up' and crimped into pre- 
scribed shape. No lounging, idleness, or loss of 
time was permitted. The social customs of the day 


38 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

enforced habits of self-control. For long hours the 
little Mary was expected to sit upon high chairs, 
with no relenting pillows or cushions, making her 
manners as became a gentleman's daughter through- 
out the stated " dining days," when guests arrived 
in the morning and remained until evening. Nor 
was her upright figure, clad in silk coat and mittens, 
capuchin and neckatees, ever absent from the front 
seat of the yellow chariot as it swung heavily through 
the sands to return these stately visits, or to take 
her mother and sister to old St. Stephen's church. 
Arriving at the latter, she might possibly have had 
a glimpse now and then of other little girls as she 
paced the gallery on her way to the high-backed 
family pew, with its " railing of brass rods with 
damask curtains to prevent the family from gazing 
around when sitting or kneeling." Swallowed up 
in the great square pew she could see nothing. 

From the viewpoint of a twentieth-century child, 
her small feet were set in a hard, if not thorny, 
path. The limits of an early colonial house 
allowed no space for the nursery devoted exclu- 
sively to a child, and filled with every conceiva- 
ble appliance for her instruction and amusement. 
There were no wonderful mechanical animals, life- 
like in form and color, and capable of exercising 
many of their functions. One stiff-jointed, staring, 
wooden effigy was the only prophecy of the en- 
chanting doll family, - - the blue-eyed, brown- 

Mary Ball's Childhood 


eyed, flaxen-curled, sleeping, talking, walking, and 

dimpled darlings of latter-day children,- - and the 

wooden-handled board, faced with horn and bound 

with brass, the sole representative of the child's 

picture-book of to-day. 

No children's books 

were printed in Eng- 

land until the middle 

of the eighteenth cen- 

tury ; but one Thomas 

Flint, a Boston printer, 

appreciating the rhymes 

that his mother-in-law, 

Mrs. Goose, sang to 

his children, published 

them in book form 

and gave them a name 

than which none is 

more sure of immor- 

tality. This, however, 

was in 1719 too late 

for our little Mary Ball. 

She had only the horn- 

book as resource in the long, dark days when the 

fairest of all books lay hidden beneath the snows of 

winter the horn-book, immortalized by Thomas 

Tickell as far back as 1636: 

An Old Doll. 

Thee will I sing, in comely wainscot bound, 
And golden verge enclosing thee around : 

40 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

The faithful horn before, from age to age 
Preserving thy invulnerable page ; 
Behind, thy patron saint in armor shines 
With sword and lance to guard the sacred lines. 
The instructed handles at the bottom fixed 
Lest wrangling critics should pervert the text." 

The " sword and lance " were in allusion to the 
one illustration of the horn-book. When the blue 
eyes weaned over the alphabet, Lord's prayer, and 
nine digits, they might be refreshed with a picture 
of St. George and the Dragon, rudely carved 
on the wooden back. The " instructed handle ' : 
clasped the whole and kept it together. 

All orphans and poor children in colonial Vir- 
ginia were provided with public schools under the 
care of the vestries of the parishes "litle houses," 
says Hugh Jones in 1722, "built on purpose where 
are taught English, writing, etc." Parents were 
compelled to send their children to these schools, 
and masters to whom children were bound were 
required to give them schooling until " ye years of 
twelfe or thereabout' without distinction of race 
or sex. For instance, in the vestry book of Pets- 
worth Parish, in Gloucester County, is an inden- 
ture dated Oct. 30, 1716, of Ralph Bevis to give 
George Petsworth, " a molattoe boy of the age of 
2 years, 3 years' schooling; and carefully to in- 
struct him afterwards that he may read well any 
part of the Bible." Having mastered the Bible, 

Mary Ball's Childhood 41 

all literary possibilities were open to the said 
George. The gentry, however, employed private 


tutors in their own families, Scotchmen or Eng- 
lishmen fresh from the universities, or young 
curates from Princeton or Fagg's Manor in Penn- 
sylvania. Others secured teachers by indenture. 

42 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

"In Virginia," says the London Magazine, "a clever 
servant is often indentured to some master as a 
schoolmaster." John Carter of Lancaster directed 
in his will that his son Robert should have " a 
youth servant bought for him to teach him in his 
books in English or Latin." Early advertisements 
in the Virginia Gazette assured all " single men 
capable of teaching children to Read English, write 
or Cypher or Greek Latin and Mathematicks 
also all Dancing Masters," that they " would meet 
with good encouragement " in certain neighbor- 

But this was after Mary Ball's childhood. Days 
of silent listening to the talk of older people were 
probably her early school days. In Virginia 
there were books, true, but the large libraries of 
thirty years later had not yet been brought over. 
There was already a fine library at Stratford in 
Westmoreland. Colonel Byrd's library was con- 
sidered vast when it attained to "3600 titles." 
Books were unfashionable at court in England. 
No power in heaven or earth has been yet found to 
keep the wise and witty from writing them, but in 
the first years of the eighteenth century it was 
very bad form to talk about them. Later, even, 
the first gentleman in England was always furious at 
the sight of books. Old ladies used to declare that 
" Books were not fit articles for drawing-rooms." 
"Books!" said Sarah Marlborough; "prithee, 

Mary Ball's Childhood 43 

don't talk to me about books ! The only books 
I know are men and cards." 

But there were earnest talkers in Virginia, and 
the liveliest interest in all kinds of affairs. It was a 
picturesque time in the life of the colony. Things 
of interest were always happening. We know this 
of the little Mary, she was observant and wise, 

J f * ' 

quiet and reflective. She had early opinions, doubt- 
less, upon the powers of the vestries, the African 
slave-trade, the right of a Virginia assembly to the 
privileges of parliament, and other grave questions 
of her time. Nor was the time without its vivid 
romances. Although no witch was ever burnt in 
Virginia, Grace Sherwood, who must have been 
young and comely, was arrested "under suspetion 
of witchcraft," condemned by a jury of old women 
because of a birth-mark on her body, and sentenced 
to a seat in the famous ducking-stool, which had 
been, in the wisdom of the burgesses, provided to 
still the tongues of "brabbling women," -a sen- 
tence never inflicted, for a few glances at her tear- 
ful eyes won from the relenting justice the order 
that this ducking was to be " in no wise without her 
consent, or if the day should be rainy , or in any way 
to endanger her health ! ' 

Stories were told around the fireside on winter 
nights, when the wooden shutters rattled for 
rarely before 1720 were "windows sasht with crys- 
tal glass." The express, bringing mails from the 

44 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

north, had been scalped by Indians. Four times in 
one year had homeward-bound ships been sunk 
by pirates. Men, returning to England to receive 
an inheritance, were waylaid on the high seas, 
robbed, and murdered. In Virginia waters the 
dreaded " Blackbeard ' had it all his own way for 
a while. Finally, his grim head is brought home on 
the bowsprit of a Virginia ship, and a drinking-cup, 


rimmed with silver, made of the skull that held his 
wicked brains. Of course, it could not be expected 
that he could rest in his grave under these circum- 
stances, and so, until fifty years ago (when possibly 
the drinking-cup was reclaimed by his restless spirit), 
his phantom sloop might be seen spreading its ghostly 
sails in the moonlight on the York River and put- 
ting into Ware Creek to hide ill-gotten gains in the 
Old Stone House. Only a few years before had 

Mary Ball's Childhood 


the dreadful Tuscaroras risen with fire and toma- 
hawk in the neighbor colony of North Carolina. 

Nearer home, in her own neighborhood, in fact, 
were many suggestive localities which a child's fears 
might people with supernatural spirits. Although 
there were no haunted castles with dungeon, moat, 
and tower, there were deserted houses in lonely 

The Old Stone House. 

places, with open windows like hollow eyes, grave- 
yards half hidden by tangled creepers and wept over 
by ancient willows. About these there sometimes 
hung a mysterious, fitful light which little Mary, 
when a belated traveller in the family coach, passed 
with bated breath, lest warlocks or witches should 
issue therefrom, to say nothing of the interminable 
stretches of dark forests, skirting ravines fringed 

46 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

with poisonous vines, and haunted by the deadly 
rattlesnake. People talked of strange, unreal lights 
peeping through the tiny port-holes of the old Stone 
House on York River --that mysterious fortress 
believed to have been built by John Smith- -while, 
flitting across the doorway, had been seen the dusky 
form of Pocahontas, clad in her buckskin robe, with 
a white plume in her hair : keeping tryst, doubt- 
less, with Captain Smith, with none to hinder, now 
that the dull, puritanic John Rolfe was dead and 
buried ; and, as we have said, Blackbeard's sloop 
would come glimmering down the river, and the 
bloody horror of a headless body would land and 
wend its way to the little fortress which held his 
stolen treasure. Moreover, Nathaniel Bacon had 
risen from his grave in York River, and been seen 
in the Stone House with his compatriots, Drum- 
mond, Bland, and Hansford. 

Doubtless such stories inspired many of little 
Mary's early dreams, and caused her to tremble as 
she lay in her trundle-bed, kept all day beneath 
the great four poster, and drawn out at night, 
unless, indeed, her loving mother allowed her to 
climb the four steps leading to the feather sanctu- 
ary behind the heavy curtains, and held her safe 
and warm in her own bosom. 



DESPITE the perils and perplexities of the 
time ; the irreverence and profanity of the 
clergy ; the solemn warning of the mis- 
sionary Presbyterians ; the death of good Queen 
Anne, the last of the Stuarts, so dear to the hearts 
of loyal Virginians ; the forebodings on the acces- 
sion to the throne of the untried Guelphs ; the total 
lack of many of the comforts and conveniences of 
life, Virginians love to write of the early years of 
the century as " the golden age of Virginia." These 
were the days known as the " good old times in old 
Virginia," when men managed to live without tele- 
graphs, railways, and electric lights. " It was a happy 
era ! ' says Esten Cooke. " Care seemed to keep 
away and stand out of its sunshine. There was a 
great deal to enjoy. Social intercourse was on the 
most friendly footing. The plantation house was 
the scene of a round of enjoyments. The planter 
in his manor house, surrounded by his family and 
retainers, was a feudal patriarch ruling everybody ; 
drank wholesome wine sherry or canary- -of his 
own importation ; entertained every one ; held great 


48 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

festivities at Christmas, with huge log fires in the 
great fireplaces, around which the family clan gath- 
ered. It was the life of the family, not of the 

j * 

world, and produced that intense attachment for the 
soil which has become proverbial. Everybody was 
happy ! Life was not rapid, but it was satisfactory. 
The portraits of the time show us faces without 
those lines which care furrows in the faces of the 
men of to-day. That old society succeeded in work- 
ing out the problem of living happily to an extent 
which we find few examples of to-day." 

"The Virginians of 1720," according to Henry 
Randall, " lived in baronial splendor ; their, spacious 
grounds were bravely ornamented ; their tables 
were loaded with plate and with the luxuries of 
the old and new world ; they travelled in state, 
their coaches dragged by six horses driven by 
three postilions. When the Virginia gentleman 
went forth with his household his cavalcade con- 
sisted of the mounted white males of the family, the 
coach and six lumbering through the sands, and a 
retinue of mounted servants and led horses bringing 
up the rear. In their general tone of character the 
aristocracy of Virginia resembled the landed gentry 
of the mother country. Numbers of them were 
highly educated and accomplished by foreign study 
and travel. As a class they were intelligent, polished 
in manners, high toned, and hospitable, sturdy in their 
loyalty and in their adherence to the national church." 

Good Times in Old Virginia 49 

Another historian, writing from Virginia in 1720, 
says : " Several gentlemen have built themselves 
large brick houses of many rooms on a floor, but 
they don't covet to make them lofty, having extent 
enough of ground to build upon, and now and then 
they are visited by winds which incommode a tower- 
ing fabric. Of late they have sasht their windows 
with crystal glass ; adorning their apartments with 
rich furniture. They have their graziers, seedsmen, 
brewers, gardeners, bakers, butchers and cooks within 
themselves, and have a great plenty and variety of 
provisions for their table ; and as for spicery and 
things the country don't produce, they have con- 
stant supplies of 'em from England. The gentry 
pretend to have their victuals served up as nicely as 
the best tables in England." 

A quaint old Englishman, Peter Collinson, 
writes in 1737 to his friend Bartram when he was 
about taking Virginia in his field of botanical explora- 
tions : " One thing I must desire of thee, and do 
insist that thee oblige me therein : that thou make 
up that drugget clothes to go to Virginia in, and not 
appear to disgrace thyself and me ; for these Vir- 
ginians are a very gentle, well-dressed people, and 
look, perhaps, more at a man's outside than his 
inside. For these and other reasons pray go very 
clean, neat and handsomely dressed to Virginia. 
Never mind thy clothes : I will send more another 

50 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Those were not troublous days of ever changing 
fashion. Garments were, for many years, cut after 
the same patterns, varying mainly in accordance 
with the purses of their wearers. " The petticoats 
of sarcenet, with black, broad lace printed on the 
bottom and before ; the flowered satin and plain 
satin, laced with rich lace at the bottom," descended 
from mother to daughter with no change in the 
looping of the train or decoration of bodice and ruff. 
There were no mails to bring troublesome letters to 
be answered when writing was so difficult and spell- 
ing so uncertain. Not that there was the smallest 
disgrace in bad spelling ! Trouble on that head 
was altogether unnecessary. 

There is not the least doubt that life, notwithstand- 
ing its dangers and limitations and political anxieties, 
passed happily to these early planters of Virginia. 
The lady of the manor had occupation enough and 
to spare in managing English servants and negroes, 
and in purveying for a table of large proportions. 
Nor was she without accomplishments. She could 
dance well, embroider, play upon the harpsichord or 
spinet, and wear with grace her clocked stockings, 
rosetted, high-heeled shoes and brave gown of 
" taffeta and moyre " looped over her satin quilt. 

There was no society column in newspapers to 
vex her simple soul by awakening unwholesome am- 
bitions. There was no newspaper until 1736. She 
had small knowledge of any world better than her 

Good Times in Old Virginia 51 

own, of bluer skies, kinder friends, or gayer society. 
She managed well her large household, loved her 
husband, and reared kindly but firmly her many 
sons and daughters. If homage could compensate 
for the cares of premature marriage, the girl-wife 
had her reward. She lived in the age and in the 
land of chivalry, and her "amiable qualities of mind 
and heart" received generous praise. As a matron 
she was adored by her husband and her friends. 


When she said, " Until death do us part," she 
meant it. Divorce was unknown; its possibility 
undreamed of. However and wherever her lot was 
cast she endured to the end ; fully assured that 
when she went to sleep behind the marble slab in 
the garden an enumeration of her virtues would 
adorn her tombstone. 

In the light of the ambitions of the present day, 
the scornful indifference of the colonists to rank, 
even among those entitled to it, is curious. Very 
rare were the instances in which young knights and 
baronets elected to surrender the free life in Vir- 
ginia and return to England to enjoy their titles and 
possible preferment. One such embryo nobleman 
is quoted as having answered to an invitation from 
the court, cc I prefer my land here with plentiful 
food for my family to becoming a starvling at court." 

Governor Page wrote of his father, Mason Page 
of Gloucester, born 1718, "He was urged to pay 
court to Sir Gregory Page whose heir he was sup- 

52 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

posed to be but he despised title as much as I do ; 
and would have nothing to say to the rich, silly 
knight, who finally died, leaving his estate to a 
sillier man than himself one Turner ', who, by act 
of parliament, took the name and title of Gregory 

Everything was apparently settled upon a firm, 
permanent basis. Social lines were sharply drawn, 
understood, and recognized. The court " at home " 
across the seas influenced the mimic court at Williams- 
burg. Games that had been fashionable in the days 
of the cavaliers were popular in Virginia. Horse- 
racing, cock-fighting, cards, and feasting, with much 
excess in eating and drinking, marked the social life 
of the subjects of the Georges in Virginia as in the 
mother country. It was an English colony, wear- 
ing English garments, with English manners, speech, 
customs, and fashions. They had changed their skies 

Cxlum^ non ammum^ qui trans mare currunt. 

It is difficult to understand that, while custom and 
outward observance, friendship, lineage, and close 
commercial ties bound the colony to England, forces, 
of which neither was conscious, were silently at work 
to separate them forever. And this without the 
stimulus of discontent arising from poverty or want. 
It was a time of the most affluent abundance. The 
common people lived in the greatest comfort, as far 
as food was concerned. Fish and flesh, game, fruits, 

Good Times in Old Virginia 53 

and flowers, were poured at their feet from a liberal 
horn-of-plenty. Deer, coming down from the moun- 
tains to feed upon the mosses that grew on the rocks 
in the rivers, were shot for the sake of their skins 
only, until laws had to be enforced lest the decay- 
ing flesh pollute the air. Painful and hazardous as 
were the journeys, the traveller always encumbered 
himself with abundant provision for the inner man. 

When the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe ac- 
complished the perilous feat of reaching the summit 
of the Blue Ridge Mountains, they had the honor 
of drinking King George's health in " Virginia red 
wine, champagne, brandy, shrub, cider, canary, cherry 
punch, white wine, Irish usquebaugh, and two kinds 
of rum," all of which they had managed to carry 
along, keeping a sharp lookout all day for Indians, 
and sleeping on their arms at night. A few years 
later we find Peter Jefferson ordering from Henry 
Wetherburn, innkeeper, the biggest bowl of arrack 
punch ever made, and trading the same with Will- 
iam Randolph for two hundred acres of land. 

We are not surprised to find that life was a brief 
enjoyment. Little Mary Ball, demurely reading from 
the tombstones in the old St. Stephen's church, had 
small occasion for arithmetic beyond the numbers of 
thirty or forty years at which age, having " Piously 
lived and comfortably died, leaving the sweet per- 
fume of a good reputation," these light-hearted good 
livers went to sleep behind their monuments. 

54 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Of course the guardians of the infant colony spent 
many an anxious hour evolving schemes for the con- 
trol of excessive feasting and junketing. The clergy 
were forced to ignore excesses, not daring to reprove 
them for fear of losing a good living. Their breth- 
ren across the seas cast longing eyes upon Virginia. 
It was an age of intemperance. The brightest wits 
of England, her poets and statesmen, were " hard 
drinkers." " All my hopes terminate," said Dean 
Swift in 1709, "in being made Bishop of Virginia." 
There the Dean, had he been so inclined, could hope 
for the high living and hard drinking which were in 
fashion. There, too, in the tolerant atmosphere of 
a new country, he might who knows?- -have felt 
free to avow his marriage with the unhappy Stella. 

In Virginia the responsibility of curbing the fun- 
loving community devolved upon the good burgesses, 
travelling down in their sloops to hold session at 
Williamsburg. We find them making laws restrain- 
ing the jolly planters. A man could be presented for 
gaming, swearing, drunkenness, selling crawfish on 
Sunday, becoming engaged to more than one woman 
at a time, and, as we have said, there was always 
the ducking-stool for " brabbling women who go 
about from house to house slandering their neigh- 
bors :- -a melancholy proof that even in those Ar- 
cadian days the tongue required control." 



EXCEPT for the bequest in her brother-in- 
law's will, nothing whatever is known of 
Mary Ball for nine years- -indeed, until 
her marriage with Augustine Washington in 1730. 
The traditions of these years are all based upon 
the letters found by the Union soldier, genuine 
letters, no doubt, but relating to some other Mary 
Ball who, in addition to the flaxen hair and May- 
blossom cheeks, has had the honor of masquerad- 
ing, for nearly forty years, as the mother of 
Washington, and of having her story and her 
letters placed reverently beneath the corner-stone 
of the Mary Washington monument. 

Mary Ball, only thirteen years old when her 

J J J 

mother died, would naturally be taken to the West- 
moreland home of her sister Elizabeth, wife of 
Samuel Bonum and only survivor, besides herself, 
of her mother's children. Elizabeth was married 
and living in her own house seven years before 
Mrs. Hewes died. The Bonum residence was but 
a few miles distant from that of Mrs. Hewes, and 
a mile and a half from Sandy Point, where lived the 


56 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" well-beloved and trusty friend George Eskridge." 
Major Eskridge " seated ' Sandy Point in West- 
moreland about 1720. The old house was standing 
until eight years ago, when it was destroyed by fire. 
He had seven children ; the fifth child, Sarah, a 
year older than Mary Ball and doubtless her friend 
and companion. 

Under the "tutelage and government" of a man 
of wealth, eminent in his profession of the law, the 
two little girls would naturally be well and faith- 
fully instructed. We can safely assume, consider- 
ing all these circumstances, that Mary Ball's girlhood 
was spent in the " Northern Neck of Virginia," 
and at the homes of Major Eskridge and her only 
sister ; and that these faithful guardians provided 
her with as liberal an education as her station de- 
manded and the times permitted there cannot be 
the least doubt. Her own affectionate regard for 
them is emphatically proven by the fact that she 
gave to her first-born son the name of George 
Eskridge, to another son that of Samuel Bonum, 
and to her only daughter that of her sister Eliza- 

Tradition tells us that in the latter part of the 
seventeenth century, George Eskridge, who was a 
young law student, while walking along the shore 
on the north coast of Wales, studying a law-book, 
was suddenly seized by the Press Gang, carried 
aboard ship and brought to the colony of Virginia. 

Mary Ball's Guardian and her Girlhood 57 

As the custom was, he was sold to a planter for a 
term of eight years. During that time, he was not 
allowed to communicate with his friends at home. 
He was treated very harshly, and made to lodge in 
the kitchen, where he slept, because of the cold, 
upon the hearth. 

On the day that his term of service expired he 
rose early, and with his mattock dislodged the 
stones of the hearth. Upon his master's remon- 
strance, he said, " The bed of a departing guest 
must always be made over for his successor;" and 
throwing down his mattock he strode out of the 
house, taking with him the law-book which had 
been his constant companion during his years of 

He returned to England, completed his law 
studies, was admitted to the bar, and, returning 
to Virginia, was granted many thousand acres of 
land, held several colonial positions, and became 
eminent among the distinguished citizens of the 
"Northern Neck," -the long, narrow strip of 
land included between the Potomac and the Rap- 
pahannock rivers. His daughter, Sarah, married 
Willoughby Newton, and lived nearBonum Creek 
in Westmoreland. The family intermarried, also, 
with the Lee, Washington, and other distinguished 
families in the Northern Neck. 




social setting for Mary Ball now a 
young lady- -is easily defined. It matters 
little whether she did or did not visit her 
brother in England. She certainly belonged to the 
society of Westmoreland, "the finest,", says Bishop 
Meade, " for culture and sound patriotism in the 
Colony." Around her lived the families of Mason, 
Taliaferro, Mountjoy, Travers, Moncure, Mercer, 
Tayloe, Ludwell, Fitzhugh, Lee, Newton, Washing- 
ton, and others well known as society leaders in 


1730. If she was, as her descendants claim for her, 
"The Toast of the Gallants of Her Dav," these 

J * 

were the " Gallants," many of them the fathers 
of men who afterward shone like stars in the galaxy 
of revolutionary heroes. 

The gallants doubtless knew and visited their 
tide-water friends, the Randolphs, Blands, Harri- 
sons, Byrds, Nelsons, and Carters,- -and, like them, 
followed the gay fashions of the day. They wrote 
sonnets and acrostics and valentines to their Belin- 
das, Florellas, Fidelias, and Myrtyllas - - the real 
names of Molly, Patsy, Ann, and Mary being 





Men and Maidens of the Old Dominion 59 

reckoned too homespun for the court of Cupid. 
These gallants wore velvet and much silk ; the 
long vests that Charles the Second had invented as 
" a fashion for gentlemen of all time " ; curled, 
powdered wigs, silver and gold lace ; silken hose 
and brilliant buckles. Many of them had been 
educated abroad, or at William and Mary College, 
where they had been rather a refractory set, 
whose enormities must be winked at, even going 
so far as to " keep race-horses at ye college, and 
bet at ye billiard and other gaming tables." What- 
ever their sins or shortcomings, they were warm- 
hearted and honorable, and most chivalrous to 
women. It was fashionable to present locks of 
hair tied in true-lovers' knots, to tame cardinal- 
birds and mocking-birds for the colonial damsels, 
to serenade them with songs and stringed instru- 
ments under their windows on moonlight nights, 
to manufacture valentines of thinnest cut paper in 
intricate foldings, with tender sentiments tucked 
shyly under a bird's wing or the petal of a flower. 

With the youthful dames themselves, in hoop, 
and stiff bodice, powder and " craped ' tresses, 
who cut watch-papers and worked book-marks for 
the gallants, we are on terms of intimacy. We 
know all their " tricks and manners," through the 
laughing Englishman, and their own letters. An 
unpublished manuscript still circulates from hand 
to hand in Virginia, under oath of secrecy, for it 

60 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

contains a tragic secret, which reveals the true char- 
acter of the mothers of Revolutionary patriots. 
These letters express high sentiment in strong, 
vigorous English, burning with patriotism and 
ardent devotion to the interests of the united colo- 
nies --not alone to Virginia. The spelling, and 
absurdly plentiful capitals, were those of the period, 
and should provoke no criticism. Ruskin says, 
"no beauty of execution can outweigh one grain or 
fragment of thought." Beauty of execution and 
good spelling, according to modern standards, do 
not appear in the letters of Mary Ball and her 
friends, but they are seasoned with many a grain 
of good sense and thought. 

Of course we cannot know the names of her best 
friends. Her social position entitled her to inti- 
macy with the sisters of any or all of the "gallants" 
we have named. She might have known Jane 
Randolph, already giving her heart to plain Peter 
Jefferson, and destined to press to her bosom the 
baby ringers that grew to frame the Declaration of 
Independence; or Sarah Winston, whose brilliant 
talents flashed in such splendor from the lips ot 
Patrick Henry ; or ill-starred Evelyn Byrd, whose 
beauty had fired the sluggish veins of George II 
and inspired a kingly pun upon her name, 
" Much have I heard, lady, of thy fair country, but 
of the beauty of its birds I know but now," all 
these and more ; to say nothing of the mother of 

Men and Maidens of the Old Dominion 61 

Sally and Molly Cary, of Lucy Grymes, of Betsy 
Fauntleroy, and of Mary Bland, each of whom has 
been claimed by Lossing and others to be the 
Lowland beauty, to whom her illustrious son wrote 
such wonderful sonnets, but quite impossible in the 
case of Mary Bland, seeing she was born in 1704, 
and was some years older than his mother. 

They were a light-hearted band of maidens in 
these pre-Revolutionary days in the " Old Domin- 
ion ! ' They had no dreams sadder than mystic 
dreams on bride's cake, no duties except those im- 
posed by affection, no tasks too difficult, no burdens 
too heavy. They sang the old-time songs, and 
danced the old-time dances, and played the old-time 
English games around the Christmas fires, burning 
nuts, and naming apple seeds, and loving their loves 
" with an A or a B," even although my Lady 
Castlemaine, of whom no one could approve, had 
so entertained her very doubtful friends a hundred 
years before. They had the Pyrrhic dances, but 
they had the Pyrrhic phalanx as well ! The " no- 
bler and manlier lessons " were not forgotten in all 
the light-hearted manners of the age. 



OF the " Mistress Mary Ball's '" personal ap- 
pearance we know nothing, unless we can 
guide our imaginations by the recollections 
of old Fredericksburg neighbors who knew her after 
she had passed middle age. Washington Irving says 
she was a beauty and a belle. He had only one 
source of information, George Washington Parke 
Custis, the sole eye-witness who wrote of her personal 
appearance in middle life. Sparks, Lossing, and all 
the rest who have described her, had no other. 
Parson Weems, of course, had something to say ; 
but we do not know that he ever saw her. Any 
pen-portrait made of her to-day can boast only an 
outline of truth. Probability and imagination must 
fill in the picture. It is certain that she was 
" finely formed, her features pleasing, yet strongly 
marked." That is all ! Has not some one said 
"her eyes were blue"? Well, then, fair hair and 
fair complexion would match the blue eyes. She 
was purely English. Her mother was probably 
born in England, her grandmother and grand- 
father were certainly born and reared there. Her 










The Toast of the Gallants of her Day 63 

type was that of an athletic, healthy Englishwoman, 
to whom an upright carriage and much out-of-door 
life gave a certain style. I, for one, am assured that 
she was handsome and distingue, a superb woman 
in every particular. She possessed a pure, high 
spirit, and 

" Every spirit as it is most pure 

And hath in it the more of heavenly light 

So it the fairer bodie doth procure 

To habit in." 

Imagination and probability join hands in picturing 
her on horseback. She was a fearless and expert 
horsewoman. At thirteen years of age she had 
owned her own mount, her own plush saddle. 
Now, at twenty, we find her in " habit, hat, and 
feather " at home on her own dapple-gray, her 
brother-in-law's gift she was too good a horse- 
woman for mad gallops- -" pacing " through the 
lanes in Westmoreland to and fro from Bonum 
Creek to Sandy Point, or to Yeocomico church, or 
to superintend her own fields. Her English habit 
is of scarlet cloth, long and flowing as to the skirt 
and tightly fitted as to the bodice. Her hat is of 
beaver, and hat and floating plume alike are black. 

This is a pleasing picture of the mother of our 
adored Washington, and it is as true a picture as 
we have authority for drawing. It would have 
helped much if we could have accepted any one of 
the portraits claiming to be genuine, although no 

64 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

one of them expresses the type which we may rea- 
sonably suppose to have been hers. Her own 
descendants and the wisest historians declare she 
left no portrait. A picture, claiming to be such, 
hangs to-day in Lancaster court-house one that 
was genuine was burned in the home of her early 
married life. Handsome and stately she certainly 
was. Nor can we suppose from the character de- 
veloped in her early maternal life, that she mingled 
to any extent in the gayeties of her time. In no 
letter, no record of any kind, is her name mentioned 
until her marriage. She was doubtless always grave, 
always thoughtful, concerning herself much with her 
religious duties, industrious in womanly occupations, 
reverently attentive to the services at Yeocomico 
church, of which the Eskridge family were mem- 

We may be sure she was instructed in danc- 
ing the universal accomplishment of the time. 
The saintly blind preacher, James Waddell, had 
his daughters, to the great scandal of his Presbyte- 
rian followers, taught to dance ; his defence being 
that " no parent has a right to make his children 
unfit for polite society." Members of the Lee, 
Corbyn, and other influential families of her neigh- 
borhood urged the building of a " Banquetting 
House" a rustic casino in Pickatown's Field 
in Westmoreland, according to contracts made years 
before, " to make an Honourable treatment fit to 

The Toast of the Gallants of her Day 65 

entertain the undertakers thereof, their wives, mis- 
tresses (sweethearts) and friends, yearly and every 
year ; " and the " yearly and every year ' : was 
likely to be construed, as the merry colonists knew 
well how to construe all opportunities for pleasure. 
For despite Francis Makemie, James Waddell, and 
the truly evangelical priests of the Established 
Church of whom there were still some --the 
times went merrily in old Virginia; and the waters 
of the York had cooled long ago the fevered blood 
of the first martyr to freedom ; and Benjamin 
Franklin was composing ballads upon " Blackbeard, 
the pyrate," to say nothing of rollicking rhymes fit 
no longer for ears polite ; and Patrick Henry, and 
Richard Henry Lee, and George Washington were 
yet unborn. 

The veil of obscurity which hangs over the 
unmarried life of Mary Ball will never be lifted. 
The evidence is all in, the testimony all taken. 
It is certain that she could hardly escape the social 
round in the gay society of Westmoreland, and 
quite as certain that she was not a prominent part 
of it. When the gardener desires the perfecting of 
some flower, to bloom but once in a twelve-month, 
he keeps it secluded in some cool, dark spot only 
when well rooted bringing it forth into the sunlight. 
Thus the mind and character grow best in quiet and 
seclusion, becoming serene, strong, and superior to 
petty passions. When Mary Ball's hour was come, 

66 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

when her high vocation was pressed upon her, she 
was rooted and grounded in all things requisite for 
her exalted but difficult lot. 

The years of which we have no record included 
the formative period of her life. They were dark 
years in the religious history of the colony. She 
could have small help from the clerical guides of 
the day. Even at the best, a church service was 
mainly a social function,- -prayers hurriedly read, 
perfunctory sermon of short duration, followed by 
a social half-hour for the purpose of giving and 
accepting invitations to dinner. The dinner ended 
with the inevitable punch bowl, over which the 
clergyman was often the first to become incapable 
of pursuing his journey home. It had not been so 
very long since a rector of the Wicomoco church 
had reached the limit of irreverence. While admin- 
istering the Communion of the Lord's Supper, 
upon tasting the bread, he had cried out to the 
church warden, " George, this bread is not fit for a 
dog." 1 

A more unwilling witness against the clergy than 
good Bishop Meade can hardly be imagined. He 
tells of one who was for years the president of a 
jockey club ; of another who was an habitue of the 
bar of a country tavern, often seen reeling to and 
fro with a bowl of " toddy " in his hands, challeng- 
ing the passers-by to " come in and have a drink " ; 

1 Foote's " Sketches of Virginia." 

The Toast of the Gallants of her Day 67 

of still another who indulged in a fisticuff with some 
of his vestrymen, floored them, and next Sunday 
preached a sermon from Nehemiah, "And I con- 
tended with them and cursed them and smote cer- 
tain of them, and plucked off their hair ! ' (Let us 
hope they were " Gentlemen >: and therefore wore 
the wigs fashionable in their day. " Plucked off' 
seems to imply as much.) One of these recreant 
rectors fought a duel within the grounds of his own 
church ; all of them, according to a report made to 
the Bishop of London, were either " slothful and 
negligent " or " debauched and bent on all manner 

^D ^5 

of vices." 

No one of the Established Church ever gave his 
services. They were paid for by the piece or dozen 
like any other merchantable article. In St. Stephen's 
parish the vestry book, in 1712, records the price 
of sermons, for instance, to " Rev. John Bell for 
eight sermons 450 pounds of tobacco apiece." The 
Rev. Mr. Lechardy rated his eloquence at a lower 
figure, " for two sermons 600 pounds of tobacco," 
etc. Notwithstanding the velvet and lace, the pow- 
der, perfume, and high-flown compliments of " the 
gallants of the early eighteenth century" license of 
speech was universal. Colonel Byrd, the courtly 
master of Westover, wrote letters too gross for the 
pages of a reputable magazine. Swearing among 
women was as common as in the " spacious times 
of great Elizabeth." From all this, no tutelage and 

68 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

government, however careful, could insure escape. 
In spite of all this and more, Mary Ball acquired 
the refinement and moderation of speech by which 
she was characterized. 



' P | A HE ' Rose of Epping Forest,' " says one 
of her descendants, " and ' reigning Belle 
-*- of the Northern Neck,' as she was uni- 
versally styled, would, in common parlance, be called 
' hard to please,' in that, in times when marriages 
were early she did not resign her sceptre until she 
had attained the then ripe age of twenty-two not 
* love-inspiring sixteen,' as Parson Weems would 
have us believe. In this she exhibited that consum- 
mate wisdom, calm equipoise of soul, and perfect 
self-control so strikingly displayed throughout her 
subsequent career." 

She was blessed then with the priceless gift of a 
long and happy girlhood that sweet fountain of 
pure waters, the memory of which has cheered so 
many women throughout a long and difficult life. 
In her day so late a marriage was not only eccentric 
but something to be condemned as unwise. The 
reluctant Virginia belle was warned that those who 
"walked through the woods with a haughty spirit 
would have to stoop at last and pick up a crooked 
stick." That women could stand alone was unthink- 

6 9 

jo The Mother of Washington and her Times 

able in those days. A staff was essential, and she 
who scorned the stately saplings of the forest would 
surely be forced at last to accept some inferior 

But Mary Ball chose wisely and well; of this we 
may be sure. Augustine Washington died before 
he could earn the honor of impressing her life or 
that of his illustrious son. 

He belonged to an old English family which had 
sent two of its members to Virginia early in the 
seventeenth century, and, as we have seen, his 
grandfather held positions of honor and trust in 
the colony. 

With the origin of his crest, the closed visor, 
the soaring raven, --with the motto Excitus acta 
probatj we need not concern ourselves. The shield 
itself is more to our purpose, for it furnished the 
pattern for the Stars and Stripes of this country; 
and is surely of all insignia the most distinguished, 
since in all lands, on all waters, amid all the emblems 
of the pride of the world, it stands preeminent as 
the emblem of freedom won by valor. 

It should be quite enough for us to know, "He 
was a gentleman of high standing, noble character, 
large property and considerable personal attractions, 
being of fair complexion, tall stature, commanding 
presence and an age not disproportioned to her 
own." He was a neighbor of Major George Esk- 
ridge, although their homes were fifteen or twenty 

Her Marriage and Early Life 71 

miles distant from each other. We have all sup- 
posed that he followed Mary Ball to England and 
was married there. Possibly, not probably. He 
was a plain Virginia planter, immersed in business 
and domestic cares, and it is not probable that he 
went to England in quest of Mary Ball. Why 
should he cross the ocean to gather the flower that 
grew at his threshold ? 

It is much more likely that he rode over to attend 
service in the handsome, recently erected Yeocomico 
church, and to visit George Eskridge at Sandy 
Point, coming with his first wife and their little 
boys, Lawrence and Augustine. Elizabeth Bonum 
lived a mile and a half from Sandy Point. It is 


quite certain that all the families in this hospitable 
region knew and visited each other. Mary Ball 
probably knew Augustine Washington well, long 
before he was a widower. 

All this seems prosaic by contrast with the legend 
that " the fair American ' met her future husband 
while she was visiting her half-brother in a Berkshire 
town in England ; that one day a gentleman was 
thrown from his travelling chariot in front of her 
brother's gate, was seriously injured, brought in and 
nursed by the fair hands of Mary herself; that love 
and marriage followed in short order ; that the pair 
lived several years in a villa at Cookham. All this 
is so much more attractive than a plain story of 
propinquity and old-fashioned neighborhood friend- 

72 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

ship, blossoming into a temperate, middle-aged, old- 
fashioned widower-love and marriage ! But we are 
constrained to accept the latter, having no proof of 
anything better. Besides, where were Lawrence 
and Augustine during all those halcyon years ? 
Who was looking after those lambs while the 
Shepherd was disporting himself at villas in Cook- 
ham ? 

The snows had melted from the violet beds, and 
the "snow-birds" were nesting in the cedars when 
our Mary left her girlhood's home to become the 
wife of Augustine Washington. Her new home 
was a large, old-fashioned house on the banks of the 
Potomac one of those dwellings with great low- 
stretching roof, which always reminds me of a gigan- 
tic fowl brooding with expanded wings over its 
young. It was not one of the imposing colonial 
houses just then (March 6, 1730) in process of erec- 
tion. Marion Harland says, in her reverent "Story 
of Mary Washington": "Augustine Washington's 
plantation of Wakefield rested upon the Potomac, 
and was a mile in width. Wakefield comprised a 
thousand acres of as fine wood and bottom land as 
were to be found in a county that by reason of the 
worth, talents and patriotism that adorned it was 
called the Athens of Virginia. The house faced 
the Potomac, the lawn sloping to the bank between 
three and four hundred yards distant from the 
' porch,' running from corner to corner of the old 

Her Marriage and Early Life 73 

dwelling. There were four rooms of fair size upon 
the first floor, the largest in a one-story extension 
in the back being the chamber. The high roof above 
the main building was pierced by dormer windows 
that lighted a large attic. At each end of the house 
was a chimney built upon the outside of the frame 
dwelling and of dimensions that made the latter seem 
disproportionately small. Each cavernous fireplace 
would hold half a cord of wood. About the fire- 
place in the parlor were the blue Dutch tiles much 
affected in the decorative architecture of the time." 
Here we can fancy the bride, covertly exploring her 
new home and scanning the footprints of her prede- 
cessor ; keeping her own counsel, but instructing 
herself as to what manner of woman had first en- 
throned herself in the bosom of her lord. 

It appears she was arrested in this voyage of 
discovery by a small but rare treasure of books. 
Standing before the diamond-paned " secretary," 
she examined one volume after another. Finally, 
turning over the leaves of one, she read : " On 
Moderation and Anger," "On Self-Denial," "On 
ye Vanity and Vexation which ariseth from Worldly 
Hope and Expectation." These seemed to her 
words of wisdom by which one might be guided. 
The title-page announced " Sir Matthew Hale's 
Contemplations," the fly-leaf revealed the name 
of the owner, the first wife, "Jane Washington." 
Finding the ink-horn, she wrote firmly beneath, 

74 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" And Mary Washington ' - probably the first time 
she had written the new name. We all know the 
rest : how this book of England's learned Judge 
never left her side ; how she read it to her stepsons 
and her own sons ; how it was reverenced by George 
Washington ; how it is treasured to-day at our 
National Mecca, Mount Vernon. 



AT the Wakefield house was born, Feb. 22, 
1732, the eldest son of this superb speci- 
men of young American womanhood. 
There is not the least 
doubt that he was in 
every respect " a fine 
boy ' and worthy of 
the best name his 
mother could give 

She did not follow 
the invariable custom 
of colonial Virginians. 
He was not called 
"John" or "Augus- 
tine ' or "Joseph ' 
after his father or 
grandfathers. He 
was given the first 
name of the " Trusty 


and well-beloved George Eskridge," - a fact which 
has hitherto escaped the notice of biographers, 


Monument at Wakefield marking the 
Birthplace of George Washington. 

76 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

and no more significant tribute could have been 
paid to faithful guardianship. According to Vir- 
ginia customs, her only daughter would naturally 
have been named for her mother and grandmother, 
but here, again, affectionate gratitude for an elder 
sister's love to a motherless girl decided the name. 
The old house with the brooding wings burned 

O O 

down soon after the thrifty young housewife set- 
ting fire to it, not by " warming her posset," but in 
her zealous burning up of the leaves and debris of 
her garden. Her husband was absent at the time, 
but she saved some furniture and Sir Matthew Hale 
and we read that the family "dined that day " in 
apparent content " in the kitchen." It is certain 
there was no great loss of pictures, hangings, bric-a- 
brac, bibelots, and the ten thousand trifles with 
which the housewife of a later day would have been 
encumbered. In the old wills, after disposition 
had been made of the bed, furniture, and " Rugg," 
there seems to have been little worth the dignity of a 
bequest. The rug- -always included with the bed 
and its belongings - - was the only carpet in general 
use in 1730. Besides these, a chamber could boast 
of little except a tall table surmounted by a small 
mirror, before which one must stand in arranging 
the head-dress only (for no part of the person 
lower than the head could be reflected), and a 
grandfather chair drawn near the ample fireplace. 
Both table and chair were covered in white linen or 

Birthplace of George Washington 77 

Virginia cotton cloth, the toilet cover embroidered 
by the ladies of the family. Similar embroidery or 
a bit of brocade adorned the pin-cushion, which was 
an important article, conserving as it did the scarce, 
imported English pins clumsy, blunt affairs, with a 
bit of twisted wire for the head which was always 
coming off. 

Furniture was hard, stiff, and unyielding, not 
one whit more luxurious in shape and cushioning 
than the furniture of the Greeks, and without the 
charm of grace or beauty. 

Moreover, it was, unhappily, built to last forever. 
Backs might break on the hard chairs, but the 
chairs never ! Beds, however, were piled high with 
feathers, bolster, and pillows, and bed-curtains 
were de rigueur. Dickens complained, among the 
horrors of his early days in America, that he 
actually had no bed-curtains. Poor indeed must 
be the house that could not afford " fallens," i.e. 
valence, around the "tester" and the bottom of the 
bedstead. This ancient appanage of a man of 
quality, as early as in Chaucer's time, was sometimes 
richly embroidered with pearls. 

" Now is Albano's marriage-bed new hung 
With fresh rich curtaines ! Now are my Valence up 
Imbost with orient pearles." 

Losing her bed and valence, Mary Washington 
would have lost everything ! Her dining-table and 

7 8 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

chairs were of the plainest. There were no side- 
boards in her day anywhere no mahogany until 
1747. As to her best room, her parlor, she prob- 
ably was content with a harpsichord, a table, and 
chairs. Great fires glorified every room in winter, 
and in summer the gaping, black fireplace was filled 
with cedar boughs and plumy asparagus. 

The colonial Virginian lived much out of doors. 
Driven in by a storm he would find shelter in his 
" porch " and remain there until the storm was over. 
His house was a good enough place to eat and sleep 
in, but beauty in house-furnishing never inspired 
ambition. That was fully gratified if he could wel- 
come a guest to a good dinner, and interest him 
afterwards in a fine horse or two and a pack of fox- 

That Augustine Washington's house should burn 
down was perfectly consistent and natural. Every- 
thing in colonial Virginia was burned sooner or 
later, dwelling-houses, court-houses with their 
records, tobacco-houses with their treasures of Ori- 
noko or Sweet-scented. Nearer than the spring at 
the foot of the hill was no water, and, except the 
pail borne on the head of the negro, no extinguish- 
ing appliance whatever. Churches did not burn 
down for the very good reason that they were never 
lighted or heated ; thus insuring that mortification 
of the body so good for the health of the soul. In 
winter little stoves of perforated tin, containing coals 

Birthplace of George Washington 79 

or heated bricks, were borne up the aisles by foot- 
men and placed beneath the feet of the colonial 
dames. Otherwise the slippered feet would surely 
have frozen ! 

It has been a favorite fashion with historians to 
picture the Wakefield house as an humble four- 
roomed dwelling. Americans love to think that 
their great men were cradled in poverty, but exca- 
vations have been recently made which develop 
the foundations of a large residence. One is inclined 
to wonder when and by whom the pictures were 
made of the birthplace of Washington, which was 
destroyed by fire before there was a newspaper to 
print a description or picture in Virginia. That the 
sketch of any visitor or member of the family should 
have been preserved nearly two hundred years is 
impossible. Why should it have been made at all ? 
Nobody living in the unpretending house had then 
interested the world. Every such picture is from 
the imagination, pure and simple, of Mr. Prud- 
homme, who made the first for a New York pub- 
lishing house. He was probably as accurate as he 
could be, but the house faced the road, not the 
river, and the latter flowed at the bottom of a hill 
in the rear of the mansion. 

In the town of Quincy, in Massachusetts, the old 
home of John and Abigail Adams still stands, built 
in 1716, according to "a truthful brick found in the 
quaint old chimney." Pious hands have preserved 

8o The Mother of Washington and her Times 

this house, restored it, filled it with just such furni- 
ture and draperies and garments as were preserved 
by those who lived in the year 1750. There the 
house stands an object lesson to all who care for 
truth about the old colonial farm-houses. Beauty, 
genius, and patriotism dwelt in this house. From 
it the master went forth to the courts of France and 
England and to become the President of the 
United States ; and on the little table in the front 
room Abigail, the accomplished lady of beauty and 
talent, wrote, " This little Cottage has more com- 
fort and satisfaction for you than the courts of 

The colonial houses of Virginia were larger, but 
yet were modest dwellings. They became more 
ambitious in 1730, but Augustine Washington's 
home had made a history of happiness and sorrow, 
birth and death, before our Mary entered it. 

The universal plan of the Virginia house of 1740 
included four rooms, divided by a central " passage " 
(never called a " hall") running from front to rear 
and used as the summer sitting room of the family. 
From this a short staircase ascended to dormer- 
windowed rooms above. As the family increased in 
numbers one-story rooms and " sheds " were tacked 
on wherever they were needed, without regard to 
architectural effect, growing around a good chimney 
and even enclosing a tree valued for its shade. The 
old house rambled about, as the land lay, so rooms 

Birthplace of George Washington 81 

were often ascended by one or more steps. I fancy 
this was the case with the Wakefield house Mary 
Washington, her fast-coming babies, and her very 
large family connection demanding more room than 
did Jane with her two little boys. 

The iron bar across the front folding-door of a 
colonial Virginian house was never put up in sum- 
mer except in a thunder-storm. The door stood 
open, and proud and happy were master, mistress, 
children, and servants when it was thronged with 
friendly neighbors or wandering tourists from 
abroad. They were welcome to come, and to stay ! 
One instance of a visit lasted three years ; another 
thirteen years ! Not once was the contented guest 
ever reminded that he had worn out his welcome ! 
One marvels that time was found for all this hospi- 
tality. It was simply the prime occupation and duty 
of life; and then fashions in garments were not 
always changing, and the housewife had no bric-a- 
brac to dust and keep in order. 

The Wakefield house, be it large or small, well 
or poorly appointed, had the honor of being the 
birthplace of our adored Washington, and there, 
or at the nearest church, he was baptized. Mildred 
Gregory, Augustine Washington's sister, held him 
in her arms and renounced for him " the devil and 
all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the 
world ' and all the " sinful desires of the flesh," 
promising that he would " obediently keep God's 

82 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

holy will and commandments and walk in the same 
all the days of his life." 

George Washington's Apron. 

His baptismal robe is still in existence or was, 
on the 22d of February, 1850, when Virginia's monu- 
ment in his honor was unveiled in Richmond. 



Birthplace of George Washington 83 

The Masonic orator of the day, Mr. R. G. Scott, 
exhibited, with Washington's sash, apron, and gloves, 
the small silk mantle in which he was baptized, 
a sacred relic still preserved, no doubt, by the 
Masonic Lodge of Richmond or Fredericksburg. 

Mildred Gregory was then a widow. Her three 
beautiful daughters (destined to take and keep the 
hearts of a family of Thorntons) were present at the 
christening and full of interest in their Aunt Mary 
and her first boy. Uncle Augustine did not sig- 
nify ! He had two boys already. Were they not 
ordinary, commonplace fellows their own every- 
day playmates ? 

The proud young mother hastened to present 
her fine boy to her own kindred, and when he was 
a month old she took him to visit her cousin, 
Major James Ball at " Bewdley," in Lancaster 
County. The house still stands that sheltered 
George Washington in infancy. 

If any one wishes to know the probable appear- 
ance and extent of the house in which he was born, 
the two-hundred-year-old house at Bewdley will 
perhaps furnish the most accurate example. The 
steep, double-storied roof, the heavy, outside chim- 
neys, the old kitchen in the yard, are all character- 

Probably the Wakefield house was never rebuilt. 
Fifty years ago a solitary chimney, and a small, en- 
graved stone marked the birthplace of George 

84 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Washington ; the stone, the first monument ever 
dedicated to his memory, having been placed there 
by the pious hands of George Washington Parke 
Custis. A better stone, protected by an iron rail- 
ing, now marks the spot. 



WHETHER the immortal cherry tree grew 
at this home on the Potomac, or on the 
farm on the Rappahannock to which the 
family moved, we are not instructed by the imagin- 
ings of " Parson Weems," Washington Irving, and 
others ; but the hatchet, if the cherry tree grew 
in Westmoreland, must have been a very " little 
hatchet," indeed, for Augustine Washington re- 
moved to a seat opposite Fredericksburg when 
George was a small boy. 

And just here the writer begs leave to enter a 
plea for the life of this cherry tree ! Irreverent 
biographers sneer at it as "a myth." We have sacri- 
ficed much to truth. We have wiped from our 
canvas all the "gay gallants" of Williamsburg, the 
love-lorn wandering curate, " Sister Susie," the life 
in England, the charming portrait ! Really, we 
cannot give up our cherry tree ! It is deeply 
rooted. It has flourished more than one hundred 
and fifty years. Its lessons and its fruits are the 
crowning glory of the board on the twenty-second 
day of February. We positively decline to bury the 
little hatchet or uproot the cherry tree ! 


86 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" Parson Weems," who first told the story of 
the little hatchet, was an Episcopal clergyman well 
known to General Washington. His " Life of Wash- 
ington" appeared several years before the great man's 
death. "It was read by him and mildly com- 

Pohick Church, Mount Vernon, Virginia. 

mended," says one writer. Certainly it was never 
contradicted. Parson Weems was an eccentric 
character, but so kind and charitable that his 
" oriental imagination ' was indulgently condoned 
by his neighbors. He claimed to have been rector 
of Pohick church which was attended bv General 


Washington. Not even this was contradicted at 

The Cherry Tree and Little Hatchet 87 

the time, and is given the benefit of a doubt by 
the accurate old Bishop Meade himself. He loved 
to make people happy. He would preach to the 
poor negroes and then fiddle for them to dance. 
He probably believed with George Herbert that : 

" A verse may find him who a sermon flies 
And turn delight into a sacrifice." 

He was a charming historian. If there were no 
interesting facts to mitigate the dryness of a narra- 
tive, why then, of course, something must be in- 
vented ! So " his books have been read," says 
Bishop Meade, " by more persons than those of 
Marshall, Ramsey, Bancroft and Irving put to- 
gether." Evidently the good bishop at heart liked 
him. He thought him probably " too good for 
banning, too bad for blessing," but he admired, 
nevertheless, " the pathos and elegance of his writ- 
ings." Now, if General Washington did not 
stamp the cherry-tree story as a falsehood, and 
if Bishop Meade does not contradict it, we may 
leave it, as they did, to flower and fruit for the 
teaching of American children. 

The title of the clergyman's book was, " The 
Life of George Washington ; With Curious Anec- 
dotes, Equally Honourable to Himself and Exem- 
plary to His Young Countrymen. By M. L. 
Weems, Formerly Rector of Mount Vernon 
Parish." It may be interesting to relate the origi- 

88 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

nal cherry-tree story as it appeared in this quaint 
little book. The author says it was communicated 
to him by "an aged lady who was a distant relative, 
and who, when a girl, spent much of her time in 
the family." How convenient the aged lady, the 
distant relative, has always been in tradition ! 

" When George was about six years old he was 
made the wealthy master of a hatchet; of which, 
like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and 
was constantly going about chopping everything that 
came in his way. One day in the garden, where he 
often amused himself hacking his mother's pea 
sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on 

J 3 

the body of a beautiful young English cherry tree, 
which he barked so terribly that I don't believe the 
tree ever got the better of it. The next morning 
the old gentleman, rinding out what had befallen 
this tree, which, by the way, was a great favorite, 
came into the house, and with much warmth asked 
for the mischievous author, declaring at the same 
time that he would not have taken five guineas for 
the tree. Nobody could tell him ^anything about 
it. Presently George and his hatchet made their 
appearance. ' George,' said his father, ' do you 
know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree 
yonder in the garden ? ' This was a tough ques- 
tion and George staggered under it for a moment, 
but quickly recovered himself, and looking at his 
father with the sweet face of youth, brightened with 

The Cherry Tree and Little Hatchet 89 

the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he 
bravely cried out, ' I can't tell a lie, Pa, you know 
I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my little hatchet.' 
' Run to my arms, you dearest boy,' cried his father 
in transports ; ' run to my arms ; glad am I, George, 
that you killed my tree, for you have paid me for it 
a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son 
is worth more than a thousand trees, though blos- 
somed with silver and their fruits of purest gold.' 

" It was in this way," adds Parson Weems, 
tagging on his moral, " by interesting at once both 
his head and heart, that Mr. Washington con- 
ducted George with great ease and pleasure along 
the happy paths of pleasure." 



AUGUSTINE Washington selected a fine site 
on the banks of the Rappahannock oppo- 
site Fredericksburg, and near " Sting Ray 
Island," where the very fishes of the stream had 
resented the coming of Captain John Smith. The 
name of this home was Pine Grove. " The situation 
was commanding 1 and the garden and orchard in bet- 
ter cultivation than those they had left. The house 
was like that at Wakefield, broad and low with the 
same number of rooms upon the ground floor, one of 
them in the shed-like extension at the back; and the 
spacious attic was over the main building. It had its 
name from a noble body of trees near it, but was 
also known by the old neighbors as ' Ferry Farm.' 
There was no bridge over the Rappahannock and 
communication was had with the town by the 
neighboring ferry." " Those who wish to associate 
Washington," says another writer, "with the gran- 
deurs of stately living in his youth, would find all 
their theories dispelled by a glimpse of the modest 
dwelling where he spent his boyhood years. But 

1 " Story of Mary Washington/' Marion Harland. 

The Young Widow and her Family 91 

nature was bountiful in its beauties in the lovely 
landscape that stretched before it. In Overwharton 
parish, where it was situated, the family had many 
excellent neighbors, and there came forth from this 
little home a race of men whose fame could gather 
no splendor had the roofs which sheltered their 
childhood been fretted with gold and blazoned with 
diamonds. The heroic principle in our people does 
not depend for perpetuity on family trees and ances- 
tral dignities, still less on baronial mansions." 

Augustine Washington died in 1743, at the age 
of forty-nine, at Pine Grove, leaving two sons of 
his first wife, and four sons and one daughter our 
Mary had borne to him, little Mildred having died 
in infancy. We know then the history of those 
thirteen years, the birth of six children, the death 
of one, finally the widowhood and desolation of the 

At the time of his father's death, George Wash- 
ington was only ten years of age. He had been 
heard to say that he knew little of his father except 
the remembrance of his person and of his parental 
fondness. To his mother's forming care he himself 
ascribed the origin of his fortune and his fame. 

Mary Washington was not yet thirty-six, the age 
at which American women are supposed to attain 
their highest physical perfection. Her husband had 
left a large estate under her management to be sur- 
rendered in portions as each child reached majority. 

92 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Their lands lay in different parts of the country, - 
Fairfax, Stafford, King George, and Westmoreland. 
She found herself a member of a large and influential 
society, which had grown rapidly in wealth, impor- 
tance, and elegance of living since her girlhood and 
early married life in Westmoreland. Her stepson, 
Lawrence, married a few months after his father's 
death, and she was thus allied to the Fairfaxes of 
Belvoir allied the more closely because of the 
devotion of Lawrence to her own son George. 
Lawrence, with his pretty Anne Fairfax, had gone 
to live on his inherited estate of "Hunting Creek," 
which he made haste to rechristen in honor of an 
English admiral, famous for having recently reduced 
the town and fortifications at Porto Bello ; famous 
also for having reduced the English sailors' rum 
by mixing it with water. He was wont to pace his 
decks wrapped in a grogram cloak. The irate sailors 
called him, and the liquor he had spoiled, " Old 
Grog." The irreverent, fun-loving Virginians at 
once caught up the word, and henceforth all un- 
sweetened drinks of brandy or rum and water were 
"grog," and all unstable partakers thereof " groggy." 
Mary Washington, young, handsome, and the 
mistress of a fine estate, was closely connected by 
ties of kindred with nearly all of the families we 
shall describe hereafter. She could have elected 
for herself a gay life of social pleasure, and could 
have been a prominent figure in that life. The 

The Young Widow and her Family 93 

pictures we have of her were nearly all drawn by 
George Washington Parke Custis, whose authorities 
were the old neighbors who knew and remembered 
her well at a later day, and in their turn had 
gathered impressions from the companions of her 
early womanhood. 

" She is the most excellent woman," says Goethe, 
" who when the husband dies, becomes as a father 
to the children." 

This was the part which Mary Washington, in 
her thirty-sixth year, elected to perform for her five 
fatherless children, - - George, Elizabeth, Samuel, 
John Augustine, and Charles. Pleasing stories are 
told of how the young widow would gather her brood 
around her, reading them lessons from some good 
book, and then repairing to her domestic tasks. 
She exacted the strictest obedience from her chil- 
dren. She directed alike their amusements and 
their education, manifesting in her administration 
of family affairs great good sense, resolution, and 
business capacity. 

Mr. Custis often visited her in his childhood, and 
although too young to appreciate her, has gathered 
material for a noble tribute to the youthful matron, 
which is best given in his own words : - 

" Bred in those domestic and independent habits which 
graced the Virginia matrons in the old days of Virginia," 
says Mr. Custis, " this lady, by the death of her husband, 
became involved in the cares of a young family, at a period 

94 I h Mother of Washington and her Times 

when those cares seem more especially to claim the aid and 
control of the stronger sex. It was left for this eminent 
woman, by a method the most rare, by an education and 
discipline the most peculiar and imposing, to form in the 
youth-time of her son those great and essential qualities 
which gave lustre to the glories of his after-life. If the 
school savored the more of the Spartan than the Persian 
character, it was a fitter school to form a hero, destined to 
be the ornament of the age in which he flourished, and a 
standard of excellence for ages yet to come. 

" The home of Mrs. Washington, of which she was 
always mistress, was a pattern of order. There the levity 
and indulgence common to youth were tempered by a defer- 
ence and well-regulated restraint, which, while it neither 
suppressed nor condemned any rational enjoyment used in 
the springtime of life, prescribed those enjoyments within 
the bounds of moderation and propriety. Thus the chief 
was taught the duty of obedience, which prepared him to 
command. Still the mother held in reserve an authority 
which never departed from her, even when her son had 
become the most illustrious of men. It seemed to say, ' I 
am your mother, the being who gave you life, the guide 
who directed your steps when they needed a guardian : my 
maternal affection drew forth your love ; my authority con- 
strained your spirit ; whatever may be your success or your 
renown, next to your God, your reverence is due to me.' 
Nor did the chief dissent from the truths ; but to the last 
moments of his venerable parent, yielded to her will the 
most dutiful and implicit obedience, and felt for her person 
and character the highest respect, and the most enthusiastic 

"Such were the domestic influences under which the 
mind of Washington was formed j and that he not only 

The Young Widow and her Family 95 

profited by, but fully appreciated, their excellence and the 
character of his mother, his behavior toward her at all times 

It was of the first importance that she should take 
care of the inheritance of her children. She must 
keep the land together and glean from it main- 
tenance and education for her four boys and her 

Virginians were taught to hold their land at any 
sacrifice. " Never part from your land, boys ! " said 
Frances Bland Randolph to John Randolph and his 
brother. " Keep your land and your land will keep 
you ! ' And yet this plan did not insure competence. 
Land would keep the family, it is true, but afford 
small margin for education. Mary Washington 
realized this and wisely prepared her sons to earn 
their own living. 

She sent George to an old-field school of Master 
Hobby, the sexton of the parish church, and then 
under his brother Lawrence's guidance to Master 
Williams. During one winter he rode on horseback 
ten miles to school every morning, returning home 
at night to prepare his tasks for the next day. At 
another time he ferried himself across the Rappa- 
hannock to his "day-school," the old academy 
at Fredericksburg, afterwards attended by Madison 
and Monroe. He was never sent, like other gen- 
tlemen's sons, to a college or university at home or 
abroad. Conscious of this, he was probably the 

96 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

more diligent to overcome by his own industry all 
deficiencies of opportunity. 

He proved an apt scholar, and soon possessed 
the rudiments of a practical education, which was 
expanded in later life by reading into scholarly 
accomplishments. But it was she, the mother, who 
first cast his mind and heart in the right mould. 

This schooling, supplemented by his own study 
and experience, was his only foundation for that 
" thorough knowledge of the technical part of his 
profession, that skill in military combinations, and 
extraordinary gifts of military administration," which 
has won the unstinted praise of England's brilliant 
historian. But it was from the training of early 
habits by his watchful mother that he became, as 
Lecky adds, " punctual, methodical, and exact in the 
highest degree, managing the minute details so 
essential to the efficiency of an army." From his 
mother he inherited qualities which she herself 
possessed in an eminent degree, "a rare form of 
courage which can endure long-continued suspense, 
bear the weight of great responsibility, and encounter, 
without shrinking, risks of misrepresentation and 

She early proved herself to be a strong, self- 
reliant woman, with executive ability and a supreme 
power of awing and governing others. Her life was 
given to her children and to the care of a thriving 
plantation ; to sowing, and planting, and reaping ; 

The Young Widow and her Family 97 

to the rearing of fine, blooded cattle. Her children 
had a plain, abundant, comfortable home, and led 
healthy out-of-door lives. She made Truth and 
Honor her handmaidens, and in their defence ruled 
her house with austerity, that " austerity in woman 
so often the accompaniment of a rare power of lov- 
ing, causing love to be piety, tenderness, religion, 
devotion strong as death." 

Surrounding her children with all the comforts of 
a well-governed household, she loved them, taught 
them, persuaded them. If all failed, if Sir Matthew 
Hale was in vain, and headlong youth yielded not 
when the right was at issue, she did not disdain to 
command another influence, pliant, pungent, prompt, 
and most convincing, a bundle of keen rods 
gathered daily from the friendly peach tree ! This 
lay always upon her historic table, or found place in 
her capacious pockets when she went abroad. It was 
the presence of this ally, offensive and defensive, 
which made harder the telling of the truth and en- 
hanced the sublimity of virtue. 

Tradition insists that she possessed a high spirit, 
passionate, lofty, intense, and yet under the most 
magnificent control ; that her feelings were so deep 
and strong she durst not show them, durst not even 
recognize them, lest they should master her. "A 
lady," says Andrew Lang, "is a woman of high 
breeding, high passion and high courage." Mary 
Washington was a lady ! She was tender, gracious, 


The Mother of Washington and her Times 

and courteous to her neighbors in humble station, 
but to them as to others she made hard the way of 
the transgressor. Yet she knew how to excuse and 

Tradition relates that when George was a fine, 
big boy of twelve, he was fired with ambition to 
conquer the spirit of an exceedingly valuable colt 
which had never permitted the near approach of 
man or boy. One morning early this feat was 
achieved. George with his brothers having chased 
the rebel into a corner of the pasture, he vaulted 
upon the back of the dangerous animal, which 
plunged forward so madly that a blood-vessel was 
ruptured, dying, like the Indian, with a broken 
heart sooner than submit. 

There were five anxious faces around the break- 
fast table that morning ! Presently the mother 
forced matters to an issue by asking : " Boys, have 
you seen my fine sorrel colt lately ? Is he as big as 
his sire ? ' 

Four pairs of eyes were turned to George, who 
unhesitatingly answered : " Madam, that horse pos- 
sessed an ungovernable spirit which had to be con- 
quered. I mounted him this morning, and he 
plunged violently and killed himself." The mother's 
face flushed for a moment, and then she said quietly : 
" That seems to be a pity ! But I am proud and 
grateful for my brave, truthful son ! ' 

This son was always a prince among boys, as he 

The Young Widow and her Family 99 

was afterwards a king among men. Strong, brave, 
athletic, with a grand air, he became the prime 
favorite of his aristocratic brother Lawrence, whom 
he often visited at Mount Vernon, and who desired 
to place him in the service of the crown. In 1747, 
when George was in his fourteenth year, a midship- 
man's warrant was obtained for him by his brother 
Lawrence, and he embraced with boyish ardor the 
idea of going to sea. 

While the matter was in doubt, however, his 
English uncle, Joseph Ball, wrote to his sister: " I 
understand that you have been advised to put your 
son George to sea. I think he had better be appren- 
tice to a tinker ; for a common sailor before the mast 
has by no means the liberty of a subject; for they 
will cut and slash him and use him like a negro, or 
rather like a dog. He must not be too hasty to be 
rich, but go on gently with patience as things will 
naturally go, without aiming to be a fine gentleman 
before his time," etc. The ship that was to carry 
him into the service of his most Gracious Majesty, 
George the Second, was riding at anchor in the 
Potomac with the young midshipman's luggage on 
board, but when the hour came for him to sail his 
mother braved the chance of Lawrence's displeasure, 
and forbade him to go ! 

The great trials of her life were henceforth to come 
through her crowning glory and pride. Her splen- 
did boy, only fifteen years old, entered, as surveyor 

ioo The Mother of Washington and her Times 

to Lord Fairfax, a life of hardship and peril, exposed 
to hourly danger from the Indians, and to the rigors 
of inclement winters. The eaglet had flown from 
the nest, never to return. Henceforth her strain- 
ing eyes might strive to follow- -they could never 
recall him. 

Mrs. Washington persuades George not to go to Sea. 

The lands to be surveyed lay in the wilderness 
beyond the Blue Ridge. There the boy of sixteen 
matched himself against fatigue, danger, and priva- 
tions of every kind, and found himself equal to them 
all. He became familiar with the frontier people 
the Indians and settlers. There he unconsciously 
trained himself for his future career. 

The Young Widow and her Family 101 

Just at this time, when Fate sent him into the 
wilderness as preparation for the stern life ordained 
for him, the gentle god of Love was experimenting 
with his virgin heart. Among the yellow papers, 
which were tied in bundles and preserved in the deep 
drawers of the old secretary at " Pine Grove," be- 
hold the following acrostic, dated 1747, when the lad 
was fifteen : 

" From your bright sparkling eyes I was undone. 
Rays you have more transparent than ye Sun 
Amidst its Glory .in ye Rising Day. 
None can you equal in y r bright array. 
Constant in y r Calm, Unspotted Mind- 
Equal toe all, will toe none Prove kind. 
Soe knowing, seldom One soe young you'll find." 

Who was Frances ? Was she responsible for the 
" hurt of the heart uncurable," of which he wrote a 
few months later? Alas, we shall never know! Her 
Rays were all dimmed before Parson Weems appeared 
to take notes and print them. 

At least we have this fragment of boyhood love, 
and can enrol her name as the first of his five sweet- 

There is also a relic of his work for Lord Fair- 
fax. Underneath the veranda at Capon Springs in 
West Virginia lies the trunk of one of the trees that 
the young surveyor marked with his hatchet. At 
least, it was there ten years ago ! 




IN 1746 young Fielding Lewis came up from 
his family seat at Marmion, bringing General 
Washington's aunt, Catharine Washington, as 
his wife, and made his home at Kenmore in Fredericks- 
burg. They were married just one year before the 
birth of little John Lewis, and Mrs. Henry Lee (the 
mother of " Light-horse Harry ") and Mrs. Mary 
Washington were godmothers. (Five times was this 
little fellow destined to be married, and if a prob- 
lem of involved relationship be in order, he could 
furnish it. His first two wives were the grand- 
daughters of his great-aunt, Mildred Gregory, and 
his last wife great-granddaughter of her last hus- 
band!) But to return to Fielding Lewis and 
Catharine (Washington) Lewis: the next year (1748) 
Frances was born, George Washington (aged sixteen), 
godfather the next year (1749) the third child was 
born, and then the poor young mother, having borne 
a child every year, was gathered to her fathers and 
her children (January, 1750). All these events were 
of keen interest to the family at " Pine Grove." In 


Betty Washington- -Weddings in Virginia 103 

all these functions nobody was more sympathetic 
than Betty Washington, now a handsome maiden of 
seventeen. She took her little orphan cousins to 
her heart, and in two months she comforted also the 
forlorn widower, and became his wife. 

Kenmore House. 

There is not the least doubt that she was given 
away by her brother George, now eighteen years 
of age, and that Samuel, John Augustine, and 
Charles, handsome, well-grown lads, were present at 
her wedding, Charles was twelve years old ; Samuel, 

iO4 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

sixteen. Elizabeth was " a fine young woman." De- 
scribing her, Mr. Custis used a favorite word of the 
day. Majesty being the highest of all places, " Ma- 
jestic" was the highest of all praise. Colonial beau- 
ties were rarely described as " graceful," " winsome," 
" exquisite," " lovely " ; they were " stately," " ma- 
jestic," " queenly." They wore stately garments, 
paduasoy, from sole de Padua^ where the strong, 
lustrous silk so much worn by men and women was 
manufactured, or " tabby ' velvet and silk, the rich 
watered oriental fabric manufactured in Attabya, a 
quarter in Bagdad. These were the grandest, the 
most sumptuous fabrics known. The wife of Gold- 
smith's Vicar was proud of her crimson paduasoy 
(the silk had given its name to a garment). Samuel 
Pepys could not afford the genuine article, but he 
boasted a " wastecoat of false tabby." Of course, 
a majestic woman wore these rich materials, " silk 
gowns wad stand on end " like the gowns of Dum- 
biedike's grandmother. Who could be majestic in 
clinging, willowy chiffon ? Elizabeth Washington, 
known by the diminutive " Betty," undoubtedly 
enhanced her majesty by one or more of these 
gowns made in the fashion invented by the artist 

As to the rest, we know she was " mannerly." 
Stately gowns befitted stately manners. People 
"Sirred and Madamed " each other in true John- 
sonian style, with many a low courtesy, veiling the 

Betty Washington- -Weddings in Virginia 105 

bosom with outspread fan, and many a profound 
bow with hand on heart. There was leisure for all 
this before the day of the trolley car and steam 
car, or even the stage and omnibus ; when in towns 
visits were made at ten in the morning, and the 
visitors sent hither and thither in sedan-chairs. 
Young ladies of her day were expert horsewomen. 
Those of us who saw the portrait of Betty Washing- 
ton at the Centennial in New York can imagine her 
handsome figure on horseback. " She was a most 
majestic woman," said Mr. Custis, adding that he 
perfectly well remembered her, " and was so strik- 
ingly like the Chief her brother, that it was a matter 
of frolic to throw a cloak around her, and then place 
a military cap on her head : and such was the perfect 
resemblance that had she appeared on her brother's 
steed, battalions would have presented arms, and 
senates risen to do homage to the chief." She 
adored her brother, and was proud to be so like 
him. " Be good," she would say to her young 
friends in after life, " and I will be General Washing- 
ton for you ! ' Tying her hair in a cue, and crown- 
ing it with a cocked hat, she would take a sword and 
masquerade to their infinite amusement. She and 
her brother closely resembled their mother in form, 
carriage, and the contour of their faces. They in- 
herited her splendid health, her mental strength, and 
her sterling virtues - - but not her seriousness which 
grew to be a settled sadness. Betty Washington 

106 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

was as merry-hearted a maiden as might be found in 
that merry time. 

If somebody had only thought of us at the great 
wedding at " Pine Grove," when stately Elizabeth 
Washington was given in marriage to the dignified, 
handsome Colonel Fielding Lewis, if somebody 
had only described it for our sakes, we should not 
be obliged to imagine it! The three great social 
occasions of domestic life were weddings, christen- 
ings, and funerals. These were solemnized, if not 
too distant, in churches. The bride on the large 
isolated estates made her vows in her own home, in 
her own home consecrated her offspring, from her 
own home was borne at last to her final resting- 
place. A wedding lasted many days, during which 
the house was filled with feasting kindred, coming 
from far and near. Social usage varied so little in 
colonial Virginia that we are quite safe in noting 
some features of Betty Washington's wedding. Of 
some things we may be sure, first, there is not 
the least doubt that she chose her own husband. 

One of the first fruits of the spirit of freedom 
was the American girl's determination henceforth to 
choose her husband. She made mistakes some- 
times, poor child, but was probably silenced by the 
reflection that she had no one to blame but herself. 
She was much under the influence of French 
fashions, but had a prejudice against the French 
manner of conducting matrimonial alliances, while 

Betty Washington Weddings in Virginia 107 

the French at once conceived a horror of the Amer- 
ican departure. " We must marry our daughters as 
soon as possible," said a Frenchwoman to an easy- 
going American husband. " If we do not take care, 
she will be like your terrible Americans, and end by 
joining in the ' bount for housband' ! " dropping her 
French to quote the enormity in its own appropriate 

Something of the old-time English customs in 
contracting parties remained in the formal correspond- 
ence of the prospective bridegroom's father with 
the father of the bride-elect, presumably before the 
young lady had been consulted. The former stated 
that his son proposed " paying his addresses," and 
he therefore announced the number of acres and 
slaves, and the kind of house he could give his son, 
and, without any expression of romance 'or senti- 
ment, politely requested a similar statement from 
the " party of the second part." This party informs 
the other that his son has applied for " leave to 
make his addresses," and states what he can do. 

Of course, it sometimes happened that the matter 
rested just here the ideas on one side or the 
other being unsatisfactory. Then it was that Cupid 
had his opportunity ! More than one lover has hid- 
den in the close-screened, cedar summer-house, and 
more than one maiden has stolen in the gray dawn 
from her back door, disguised as her own maid, to 
join him in an early horseback ride to Gretna Green. 

io8 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Moreover, more than one such maiden was " cut off 
with a shilling ' by an injured father, and went 
through her life stoutly declaring herself the happi- 
est woman in the world, albeit not as rich in worldly 
goods as her dutiful sisters ! 

Betty Washington's wedding-dress we must 
imagine. It was probably not unlike Martha 
Custis's wedding-gown a few years later. This 
was thus described by one of her guests : a white 
satin quilt, over which a heavy white silk, inter- 
woven with threads of silver, was looped back with 
white satin ribbons, richly brocaded in a leaf pattern. 
Her bodice was of plain satin, and the brocade was 
fastened on the bust with a stiff butterfly bow of 
the ribbon. Delicate lace finished the low, square 
neck. There were close elbow-sleeves revealing a 
puff and frill of lace. Strings of pearls were woven 
in and out of her powdered hair. Her high-heeled 
slippers were of white satin, with brilliant buckles. 
Just this dress, in style if not material, was certainly 
worn by Betty. 

Her mother being a devout churchwoman, she 
was probably married at church. And if Colonel 
Lewis chose to follow the fashion of the day, he was 
brave indeed in a white satin vest, a suit of fine 
cloth lined with crimson satin, fine lace at wrist and 
throat, and diamond (or was it paste ?) buckles at 
knee and shoe top. 

Our forefathers and foremothers wore good 
clothes in 1750 ! 

Betty Washington Weddings in Virginia 109 

We may be sure that none of the orthodox wed- 
ding customs and ceremonies were omitted by Mary 
Washington at her daughter's marriage. There were 
certainly bride's favors, wedding-cake, ring, and 
thimble, and, alas ! the slipper and rice. The bride 
was duly provided, for her bridal costume, with 

" Something old, and something new, 

Something borrowed and something blue." 

The " old ' was oftenest an heirloom of lace ; the 
" borrowed," an orange blossom or two which had 
been worn by other brides ; the " blue," a tiny knot 
of ribbon on the garter. 

These ceremonies were full of significance, and in 
observing them, the bride linked herself in the long 
chain which stretches back to the early stages of the 
world. The wedding-ring, and the choice of the 
third finger as being connected with the heart, are 
mentioned in old Egyptian literature. The blue 
ribbon, whether worn as a badge, or order, or at 
bridals, comes down from the ancient Israelites, 
who were bidden to put upon the borders of their 
fringed garments a " ribband of blue " blue, the 
color of purity, loyalty, and fidelity. Bridesmaids 
were a relic of the ten witnesses of old Roman 
weddings. Bride's cake and rice, of the aristocratic 
Roman confarreatio. The Spanish custom of 
wearing fragments cut from the bride's ribbons, first 
introduced into England when Charles II brought 

no The Mother of Washington and her Times 

home his Katharine of Portugal to be England's 
queen, survived in the enormous white satin rosettes 
( bride's favors ) worn by the groomsmen, and 
survives to-day in the boutonnieres of the bride's 
flowers. The old and the new symbolize her past 
and future not divided, but united. The " some- 
thing borrowed " signifies a pledge to be redeemed. 
Nothing is without significance, which accounts for 
the fact that all these old-time customs continue from 
century to century, and are so jealously observed 

One of the eighteenth-century customs, has, how- 
ever, been lost in the hurry and rush of our own 
time. The " infair," the faring into the house of 
the bridegroom's parents, was quite as lengthy 
and important a function as the wedding. This 
great housewarming entertainment to celebrate the 
reception into the bridegroom's family was an 
ancient English custom, religiously observed in 
Virginia until the middle of the nineteenth century. 

The quantity of wedding-cake made in the Vir- 
ginia kitchens was simply astounding ! It was 
packed in baskets and sent all over the country to 
be eaten by the elders and " dreamed on ' by the 

What would Betty Washington and Colonel 
Lewis have thought of a wedding reception of an 
hour, and then a flitting to parts unknown, leaving 
the world to comfort itself with a small square of 

Betty Washington Weddings in Virginia 1 1 1 

cake in a pasteboard box? Such behavior would 
have been little less than " flat burglary," defrauding 
people of their just dues. 

Colonel Fielding Lewis, although young, was 
already a merchant of high standing and wealth, a 

The Hall at Kenmore, showing the Clock which belonged to Mary 


vestryman, magistrate, and burgess. Kenmore, near 
Fredericksburg, was built for him, that his wife 
might be near her mother. The mansion, still kept 
in excellent repair, was reckoned a fine one at the 
time. It was built of brick and skilfully decorated 
by Italian artists. Betty wrote to her brother 
George that their " invention had given out," and 

ii2 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

invited him to contribute something. It is said 
that he designed the decoration illustrating ^sop's 
fable of the Crow and the Fox, which adorns the 
drawing-room mantel to-day. It is in stucco, and 
besides illustrating the fable of the wheedling fox 
who seeks to gain booty by a smooth tongue, 
another fable- -the wolf accusing the lamb of foul- 
ing the water --is represented. The story told at 
Kenmore is of Italians captured in the French 
army as prisoners of war, who were led by choice 
or necessity to remain in America, where they plied 
their trade of decorators. 

Nine months after Betty Washington's wed- 
ding, on St. Valentine's day, 1751, another Field- 
ing Lewis was born, and George Washington, 
just nineteen, was godfather, his mother, godmother. 
Having done her duty to her husband, Betty in 
1752 named her next son John Augustine, and her 
brother Charles, fourteen years old, was godfather. 
A third boy was born, 1755, and Charles was again 
godfather. In 1757 she named a fourth son 
George Washington, and, in 1759, Mary Washing- 
ton was sponsor for a little Mary Lewis, and Sam- 
uel Washington, godfather. Then, in 1760, a year 
after his own marriage, we find George Washington 
and his mother sponsors for a Charles Lewis. 
Samuel and Betty were born respectively in 1763 
and 1765, and in April, Lawrence, the lucky, - 
destined to win " the nation's pride," lovely Nellie 


Betty Washington- -Weddings in Virginia 113 

Custis, the adopted daughter of General Washing- 
ton. Then Robert and Howell were born. Again, 
and yet again, was the traditional gown of black 
brocade brought forth by the proud grandmother, 
as Betty claimed her mother and brothers for the 
important and solemn office of sponsors for her 
splendid boys boys that followed their illustrious 
uncle all through the war of the Revolution, and to 
whom he was ever the most faithful of friends and 



WASHINGTON was only nineteen when 
Virginia appointed him one of her adju- 
tants-general. He was " Major Wash- 
ington " now when he visited his mother at " Ferry 
Farm," visiting her only, because the failing health 
of his brother Lawrence demanded his care. His 
mother gladly surrendered him for the comfort of 
this, her devoted stepson, to whom she had always 
deferred as the head of the family. He went with 
this brother to try the warmer climate of Barbados, 
bringing him back ere long to die at Mount Vernon. 
In 1752 Governor Dinwiddie had information 
about the French. They had commenced establish- 
ing forts in the territory on the banks of the Ohio 
claimed by Virginia. The governor needed some 
trusty messenger to send to the Chevalier Le 
Gardeur de St. Pierre, the French commander, to 
claim that country as belonging to his Britannic 
Majesty, "and," says Burnaby in his "Travels in 
Virginia," 1759, " Mr. Washington, a young gentle- 
man of fortune just arrived at age, offered his ser- 
vice on this important occasion. The distance was 


Defeat in War: Success in Love 115 

more than four hundred miles ; two hundred of 
which lay through a trackless wilderness, inhabited 

George Washington as Major. 

by cruel and merciless savages, and the season was 
uncommonly severe. Notwithstanding these dis- 

ii6 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

couraging circumstances, Mr. Washington, attended 
by one servant only, set out upon this dangerous 
enterprise ; travelled from Winchester on foot, 
carrying his provisions on his back, executed his 
commission ; and after incredible hardships, and 
many providential escapes, returned safe to Williams- 

He was in love with action and adventure! He 
had said to Governor Dinwiddie, " For my own 
part I can answer that I have a constitution hardy 
enough to encounter and undergo the most severe 
trials, and I flatter myself resolution to face what 
any man dares, as I shall prove when it comes 
to the test." 

France refused to surrender her claim. The 
courtly old chevalier abated nothing of his punc- 
tilious courtesy when he received the youthful 
ambassador doubtless bronzed and travel-soiled. 
He said, very politely, cc I am here by the orders 
of my General, and I entreat you, Sir, not to doubt 
one moment but that I am determined to conform 
myself to them with all exactness and resolution 
that can be expected from the best officer." So, in 
1754, Dinwiddie sent the young major back again 
this time at the head of some soldiers. In writ- 
ing to the other governors for men, he says, " I 
sent a Gent : to the Place by whom I know the 
Truth." A large force of the French appearing, 
"The Gent" (Major Washington) was compelled 

Defeat in War: Success in Love 117 

to surrender and, politely bowed out by the old 
chevalier, permitted to return to Virginia. 

This bitter experience had not the effect of dis- 
couraging Washington. It only 'made him long 
for another chance, with another result. He had 
written lightly to Governor Dinwiddie, as if he 
were arranging a tournament, " We have prepared 
a charming field for an encounter." It is even said 
that he added, " I know no music so pleasing as 
the whistling of Bullets." This was repeated to 
George the Second. " He would not say so," said 
the soldier-king, " had he been used to many ! ' 
Years afterward Washington was reminded of this 
incident, and he thoughtfully replied, " If I said so, 
it was when I was young ! ' 

His mother, foreseeing the tendency of all these 
events, had bitterly opposed his last disastrous ex- 
pedition. He was a man of independent fortune, 
and had declined remuneration for his services 
as he afterwards declined all pay during the years 
he served in the war of the Revolution. She 
wished him to live on his own estate as became a 
country gentleman. Her opposition to his fighting 
against the English crown was not one whit greater 
than her opposition to his fighting for the crown. 
The word " loyal ' was a shifting quantity in her 
time, meaning one thing to-day and another 
to-morrow ! The peril and the hardship were the 
same in either case. 

ii8 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

The first time that he set forth for the frontier 
his mother almost succumbed. " Oh, this fighting 
and killing ! " she exclaimed, as she entreated him 
not to go. When convinced that she must sacrifice 
herself to his duty to his country she became calm. 
Laying her hand upon his shoulder, she said, sol- 
emnly : " God is our sure trust. To Him I com- 
mend you." She thus un- 
consciously provided him 
with an unanswerable argu- 
ment for another time. 
When General Braddock 
offered him a place on his 
staff she drove to Mount 
Vernon to entreat him not 
to accept the honor. " The 

God to whom you corn- 
General Braddock. j j 1% /\ i 

mended me, Madam, when 

I set out on a more perilous errand, defended me 
from all harm, and I trust he will do so now," was 
the reply. 

When the news of Braddock's defeat and the 
dreadful slaughter of his army reached Fredericks- 
burg the anxious mother was forced to wait twelve 
days before she could be assured of her son's safety. 
In a long, calm letter he tells her of all his dangers 
and his own wonderful escape, with four bullets 
through his coat and two horses shot under him. 
He tells her, too, of an illness which confined him 

Defeat in War: Success in Love 119 

in a wagon for more than ten days ; how he was not 
half recovered at the time of the fight ; how he must 
halt and rest often upon his way home to Mount 
Vernon, which he could scarce hope to leave before 
September; how he was, "Honored Madam," her 
most dutiful son. 

She drove to Mount Vernon to meet him, and 
warmly entreated him to leave the service forever, 
urging the loss of health and fortune should he remain 
in it. He had no answer then, but after she was at 
home she received his final word. 

" HONORED MADAM : If it is in my power to avoid going 
to Ohio again, I shall ; but if the command is pressed upon 
me by the general voice of the country, and offered upon 
such terms as cannot be objected against, it would reflect 
dishonor upon me to refuse it, and that, I am sure must, or 
ought, to give you greater uneasiness than my going in an 
honorable command. Upon no other terms will I accept 


The code of manners which ruled Virginia in the 
eighteenth century forbade familiarity or the dis- 
cussion of personalities. Washington's letters to 
" Honored Madam," as he always addressed his 
mother, relate mainly to important public events. 
Nothing is told of his ups and downs, which he 
seems to have had in common with ordinary mor- 
tals ; of the envious slanderers who strove to under- 
mine him in the estimation of the governor; still 
less of his repulse by the father of Miss Mary Gary 

I2O The Mother of Washington and her Times 

who curtly refused him his daughter's hand for the 
reason that she was "accustomed to riding in her 
own carriage " and therefore above Virginia's young 
major. Bishop Meade says that this lady, after- 
wards the wife of Edward Ambler, was in the throng 
of applauding citizens when Washington passed 
through Williamsburg at the head of the American 
army. He recognized her, and gallantly waved 
his sword to her, whereupon she fainted. Nobody 
knows that she ever wished to accept Major Wash- 
ington. Had he waited until 1753, her prudent 
father could have urged no objection to the hand- 
some young lover. In 1752 Lawrence Washington 
died, directing in his will, in case of the demise of 
his wife without issue, the estate at Mount Vernon 
should become the property of his brother George. 
Within the year the young major received this 

He seems to have been for him very faithful 
to an early dream. If he cherished, as he doubtless 
did, hopes of winning his " Lowland Beauty," she 
now put an end to his dream by marrying, in 1753, 
Henry Lee of Stafford ; and it may be remembered 
that it was in this year, and only one month before 
her marriage, that he sought the governor's permis- 
sion to bear a message of remonstrance to the Chev- 
alier de St. Pierre. Like a wise soldier he knew 
when he was defeated and retreated accordingly. 

He did not marry until 1759; but it is not to be 






Defeat in War: Success in Love 121 

supposed that his heart was breaking all these six 
years for Miss Mary Gary or for the lovely Lucy 
Grymes, the " Lowland Beauty." Do we not know 
of Miss Mary Philipse, whose father's manor-house 
may still be seen on the Hudson ? Washington 
Irving thinks she could not have refused him, that 
he " rode away ' before he had " made sufficient 
approaches in his siege of the lady's heart to warrant 
a summons of surrender." 

However this may be, all went well with the 
parties to the drama in Virginia. The " Lowland 
Beauty " was the wife of one of Virginia's honored 
sons, and the mother of" Light-horse Harry' Lee. 
Perfect happiness was only waiting a few necessary 
preliminary events to crown the young soldier's life 
with joy, in the person of the fascinating widow, 
Martha Custis, who, according to old Bishop Meade 
(who relished an innocent bit of gossip), resembled 
Miss Gary as one twin-sister does another. He 
resigned his position as commander-in-chief of the 
Virginia forces, and reasonably looked forward to a 
life of calm content in his home on the right bank 
of the Potomac. 

Washington had always, his rebuffs to the con- 
trary nevertheless, flattered himself that he could 
" get along ' with the ladies. There was never a 
moment that some " Faire Mayde" was not well to 
the fore, and it is known that he offered his heart 
and sword to three, Mary Gary, Lucy Grymes, 

122 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

and Mary Philipse. With the latter he acknowl- 
edged that he had been too hasty. He thought 
things might have resulted differently if he had 
" waited until ye ladye was in ye mood." 

Two years later he repeated his imprudence. Mr. 
Tony Weller had not then been born, and there 
was nobody to bid him beware. He paid an after- 
noon call, fell in love in an hour, and stayed on and 
on until he was accepted. In a few days we find 
this entry in his cash account, " One Engagement 
Ring, ^2, i6s., od." 

Mrs. Custis felt a little shy in announcing so 
hasty an engagement to her friends, " My dear, the 
truth is my estate is getting in a bad way, and I 
need a man to look after it." 

The estate was large. She owned fifteen thou- 
sand acres of land, many city lots, two hundred ne- 
groes, and money besides, a great fortune in colonial 
days. He had just returned from a brilliant cam- 
paign ; was gallant, young, and handsome ; was just 
elected member of the House of Burgesses ; and 
was master of a fair domain on the right bank of the 
Potomac, and so "ye ladye" found herself " in ye 

When he married the beautiful, rich widow, his 
mother was exultant. Now he was safe ! All the 
killing and fighting were over and done with. He 
was to live near her at Mount Vernon. She was 
now fifty-two years old, and was going to enjoy 

Defeat in War : Success in Love 


a serene and happy old age at last. She wrote her 
brother, " I have had a great deal of trouble about 
George, but it is all over now." 

She had a long season of busy home life, happy 
when she might be in the happiness of her children. 
Her warrior son 
was behaving at 
last as became a 
dignified coun- 
try gentleman. 
But Fate was 
only preparing 
him for future 
greatness. In 
the administra- 
tion of his large 
estate, and in 
the county and 
provincial busi- 
ness, he was ac- 
quiring the rare 
skill in reading 
and managing 
men, for which he became so remarkable. But of 
this he was totally unconscious. He had small am- 
bitions. He was proposing himself to the electors 
of Frederick County, having " an easy and credit- 
able Poll," cheerfully paying his self-imposed assess- 
ment of thirty-nine pounds and ten shillings besides 

St. Peter's Church, in which George Washing- 
ton was married. 

124 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" cyder and dinner " for his constituency. He was 
attending the Annapolis races ; going down to Will- 
iamsburg for the assembly with Mrs. Washington 
and Miss Custis ; loading his wagons to provision 
his family and Colonel Bassett's on a visit " to try 
the waters of the warm springs," much exercised lest 


Jack Custis were premature in winning the affections 
of Miss Calvert (for Jack was only eighteen, had 
been " fickle, and might wound the young lady ") ; 
nay, he was beating his sword into a ploughshare, 
his spear into a pruning-hook, planting May-Duke 
cherries and guelder-roses, and lamenting " Rust in 
the wheat and Drought in the Corn crop." More- 


Defeat in War: Success in Love 125 

over, he was writing letters to England, giving 
orders for all sorts of foreign elegancies, for his 
own wear and that of Madam Washington and her 
children. Let us copy a summer order sent to 
London in 1761. 

For his use the great man wants " a superfine velvet 
suit with garters for the breeches ; pumps, riding- 
gloves, worked ruffles at twenty shillings a pair; hous- 
ings of fine cloth edged with embroidery, plain clothes 
with gold or silver buttons ! ' For Mrs. Washing- 
ton he orders " a salmon-colored tabby velvet with 
satin flowers ; ruffles of Brussels lace or point, to 
cost twenty pounds ; fine silk hose, white and black 
satin shoes ; six pairs of mitts ; six pairs of best kid 
gloves ; one dozen most fashionable pocket-hand- 
kerchiefs ; one dozen knots and breast-knots ; real 
miniken (very small) pins and hairpins ; a puckered 
petticoat ; six pounds of perfumed powder ; hand- 
some breast flowers (bouquets de corsage] and some 
sugar candy." 

I have not room for Master Custis's outfit at 
eight years old, nor that of Master Custis's livened 
servant of fourteen years old, but I cannot omit the 
delightful order for little " Miss Custis, six years 
old," namely, " A coat of fashionable silk, with bib 
apron, ruffles and lace tucker; four fashionable 
dresses of long lawn ; fine cambric frocks ; a satin 
capuchin hat and neckatees ; satin shoes and white 
kid gloves ; silver shoe-buckles ; sleeve-buttons, 

126 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

aigrettes ; six thousand pins, large and short and 
minikin ; a fashionable dressed doll to cost a guinea ; 
gingerbread, toys, sugar images and comfits; a Bible 
and prayer-book; and one very good spinet, to be 
made by Mr. Plinius, harpsichord maker, in South 
Audley street, Grosvenor square, with a good assort- 
ment of spare strings." Not too much, assuredly, 
tor the little beauty, but not Spartan simplicity 

Six years later, it is recorded that " the Fair Sex, 
laying aside the fashionable ornaments of England, 
exulted, with patriotic pride, in appearing dressed 
with the produce of their own looms." 




origin of the names of the estates in 
the Northern Neck can easily be traced. A 
few were Indian : " Quantico," " Occoquan," 
" Monacan," " Chappawamsic," " Chotank." Many 
were English : " Stratford," " Wakefield," " Marl- 
boro," "Chatham," " Gunston Hall," "Mount 
Vernon," " Ravensworth," " Blenheim," " Mar- 
mion," the latter, of course, not named for Scott's 
fictitious hero (seeing that Sir Walter had not yet 
been born), but, doubtless, by some emigrant of 
Lincolnshire descent, in honor of Sir Robert de 
Marmion, who " came over with the Conqueror," 
and was granted a manor in Lincolnshire. " Chan- 
tilly ' was thus named by Richard Henry Lee, 
after the beautiful chateau and grounds of the Prince 
Conde, near Paris. 

Mount Vernon was not too distant to be in Mary 
Washington's neighborhood. She had but to cross 
the neck of land to the Potomac, and a pleasant sail 
would bring her to the little wharf at Mount Vernon 
just where we, patriotic pilgrims, so often now 


128 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

land to render our pious homage to the sacred 

Within visiting distance of Mount Vernon was the 
" Chippawamsic " plantation, at which lived another 
widow, rich, young, and beautiful, - -Ann Mason, 
the mother of George Mason, the patriot and states- 
man, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights (the first 
complete formula of the civil and political rights of 
man ever promulgated) and author of the Virginia 
constitution of 1776, the first written constitution 
of government ever adopted by a free people. 

No one who studies the peculiar characteristics 
of Virginians of this period can doubt that both 
these young widows were sought by many suitors. 
The zeal with which men made haste to fill the 
places of departed wives was something marvellous ! 
Samuel Washington was married five times, and one 
instance is recorded of a colonial dame in the best 
society who had six husbands ! The early marriage 
of widows was the more desirable because of the 
outlying estates which required management. Mar- 
tha Custis gave this as excuse for her prompt ac- 
ceptance of Colonel Washington. But Ann Mason 
and Mary Washington never married again. Each 
possessed great executive ability, as well as unusual 
personal and intellectual gifts. Each elected to 
devote those gifts to her children. Each was the 
mother of a great patriot. And it is altogether 
probable that each one was the devoted friend of 

In and Around Fredericksburg 129 

the other, and that the close friendship between 
the two Georges was inherited from their parents. 
Another Ann Mason left letters and records which 
give us a hint of the belongings of a Virginia house- 
wife of her day. She enumerates among her daugh- 
ter's expenses prices paid for shoes with wooden 
heels, hoop petticoats, and linen. George Mason 
of" Gunston Hall," the greatest, perhaps, of all the 
statesmen in an age of great statesmen, remembered 
the furniture of his mother's bedroom. In it was 
a large chest of drawers a veritable high-boy! 1 
Three long drawers at the bottom contained chil- 
dren's garments, in which the children might rum- 
mage. Above these and the whole length of the 
case were the gown-drawer, the cap-drawer, the 
shirt-drawer, the jacket-drawer ; above these a 
series of drawers always kept locked, containing 
gauzes, laces, and jewels of value - - ten or twelve 
drawers in all ! Then there were two large, deep 
closets, one on each side of the recess afforded by 
a spacious stack of chimneys, one for household 
linen, the other "the mistress's closet," which last 
contained a well-remembered article, a small green 
horsewhip, so often successfully applied to unruly 
children that they dubbed it " the green Doctor." 
George Mason remembered other things in con- 
nection with this splendid woman. She gathered 
her children around her knees morning and evening 

1 " Life of George Mason," by Kate Mason Rowland. 

ijo The Mother of Washington and her Times 

to " say their prayers." She was a lovely woman, 
true to her friends, pious to her Maker, humane, 
prudent, tender, charming : 

" Free from her sex's smallest faults, 
And fair as womankind can be." 

Both these Ann Masons the wife of the states- 
man and her mother-in-law lived and died near 
Mary Washington's home before 1773. Both were 
brilliant women, with personal charm and amiable 

Near the Masons, at " Marlboro," lived John 
Mercer, a lawyer of fine talents and attainments, 
and owner of one of the best private libraries in 
the colony. Virginia bibliophiles still boast in 
their collections some of his books containing his 
heraldic book-plate. There was a George in his 
family, one year younger than George Washington. 
Their homes were just sixteen miles apart a mere 
nothing of distance, as neighborhoods were reck- 
oned in those days and both in Overwharton 
parish. The Mercers were lifelong friends of 
Mary Washington. General Mercer died in her 
grandson's arms. Judge James Mercer wrote her 

Then, not far from John Mercer's, lived one of 
the largest landed proprietors in Stafford, a promi- 
nent burgess and planter of his day, Raleigh Travers 
of Sir Walter Raleigh's family and married to 

In and Around Fredericksburg 131 

Mary Washington's half-sister, Hannah Ball. They 
were founders of one of Virginia's great families, "dis- 
tinguished in later years for breeding, learning, and 
eloquence." Two miles from " Marlboro " lived one 
of their daughters, Sarah, married to Colonel Peter 
Daniel, of the "Crow's Nest." 

Then came "Boscobel," the residence of Thomas 
Fitzhugh, the father of a family of interesting young 
people. Susannah Fitzhugh still smiles to us from 
these pages in her rich robe over a pearl embroidered 
skirt and bodice of white satin, with a necklace of 
pearls festooned over her fair bodice. 

She was just three years younger than her beauti- 
ful cousin Elizabeth, who lived at " Belle-Air " (her 
mother was Alice Thornton), and whose portrait, 
painted by Hesselius, presents the fashionable dress 
of her day. The gown is of fawn color, square 
corsage, elbow sleeves with lace ruffles (like Susan- 
nah's), the hair carried smoothly back from her 
brows, piled high over a cushion, and dressed with 
strings of pearls. 

The Fitzhughs did not quite " own the earth " in 
their region, - - Lord Fairfax did that, but they 
owned a goodly portion of it: "Eagle's Nest" in 
Stafford County, "Somerset" in King George, " Bos- 
cobel," " Belle-Air," and " Chatham " in Stafford, 
" Ravensworth " in Fairfax. At the latter General 
Custis Lee, an honored descendant of this honored 
race, sits to-day under the trees his fathers planted. 

132 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

In the Fitzhugh pedigree the Thorntons crop up 
again and again. One may sink a mine in any 
Virginia genealogy and he will encounter the names 
of all these neighbors of Mary Washington. 

At " Salvington ' lived the Seldens, to whom 
Mary Washington was bound by ties of close 
kindred. Mary Ball, daughter of Major James 
Ball of " Bewdley," in whose arms Mary Wash- 
ington had hastened to place her son George when 
one month old, had married John Selden. For his 
second wife he chose her first cousin, Sarah Ball, 
whose tombstone may be seen to-day in the woods 
a mile from Lancaster court-house. 

Later, a Samuel Selden married Mary Thomp- 
son Mason (she of the wooden-heeled shoes and 
hoop petticoat), famous for her beauty, as was her 
mother before her. The second wife of Samuel 
Selden was Ann Mercer. Many of the descend- 
ants of these women inherited great beauty. Even 
a little drop of their blood suffices to endow many 
a Virginia woman of to-day. 

At " Cleve," on the Rappahannock, lived Charles 
Carter, and thither " Light-horse Harry ' Lee 
went for his sweet wife Anne. Charles Carter's 
father, Robert, the mighty man of Lancaster, 
" King " Carter, - - died in the year George Washing- 
ton was born. He had built Christ Church, where 
Mary Washington was possibly baptized, for her 
father lived near the church. King Carter owned 

In and Around Fredericksburg 133 

300,000 acres of land, 1000 slaves, ^10,000 in 
money. The cattle on a thousand hills were his. 

"Light-horse Harry" Lee. 

He left many children, all of whom he was able to 
enrich, and many of whom distinguished themselves 
in things better than riches. 

" Cleve," with its octagon front, is still in good 

The Mother of Washington and her Times 

preservation, and is a fine example of the early 
Georgian manor-house, having been built early 
in the eighteenth century. An excellent portrait 
of its builder, Charles Carter, looks down to-day 
upon his descendants who still own and live in the 


Four miles below 
Mary Washington's 
home was " New- 
post," the ancestral 
home of John Spots- 
wood, a son of Gov- 
ernor Spotswood. 
His two sons, Alex- 
ander and John, were 
destined to serve in 
the Revolutionary 
War, one as a general, 
the other a captain, 
and to mingle the 
Spotswood with the 
Washington blood by 
marriage with one of Mary Washington's grand- 
daughters. They came honestly by their dash and 
spirit through the Spotswoods. 

It appears that the Virginia Gazette of 1737 
lent its columns to an article against Governor 
Spotswood, written by a Colonel Kdwm Conway, 
upbraiding the governor for delaying to turn over 

Governor Spotswood. 

In and Around Fredericksburg 135 

the arms intended for Brunswick County. The 
article was entitled, "A Hint to discover a few of 
Colonel Spotswood's Proceedings." A few days 
after its appearance the Gazette printed the fol- 
lowing : 


" I have learnt in my Book, so far as to be able to read 
plain English, when printed in your Papers, and finding 
in one of them my Papa's name often mentioned by a 
scolding man called Edwin Conway, I asked my Papa 
whether he did not design to answer him. But he re- 
plied : c No child, this is a better Contest for you that are 
a school Boy, for it will not become me to answer every 
Fool in his Folly, as the lesson you learned the other day 
of the Lion and the Ass may teach you.' This Hint 
being given me, I copied out the said Lesson and now 
send you the same for my answer to Mr. Conway's Hint 

" Sir, your Humble Servant 

" John Spotswood." 

"FEB. 10. A LION AND AN Ass 

" An Ass was so hardy once as to fall a mopping and 
Braying at a Lion. The Lion began at first to show his 
Teeth, and to stomach the Affront. But upon second 
Thoughts, Well, says he, Jeer on and be an Ass still, take 
notice only by the way that it is the Baseness of your 
Character that has saved your Carcass." 

There was a famous beauty in the family of 
Spotswood who shared, as we shall see hereafter, 

136 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

in the spirit of her race. This was Kate ! She 
wore, on her high days and holidays, fawn-colored 
satin, looped over a blue satin petticoat, square 
bodice and elbow sleeves and ruffles ; and her feet, 
which were extremely small and beautifully formed, 
were shod in blue satin shoes, with silver buckles. 
Age did not wither this haughty beauty. Her 
granddaughter remembered her as she combed a 
wealth of silver hair, a servant the while holding 
before her a mirror. 

Not far from " Pine Grove " was " Traveller's 
Rest," the most beautiful and significant of all the 
ambitious names of stately mansions on the Rap- 
pahannock. " It should be called," said Byrd 
Willis, "Saint's Rest --for only they ever go 
there ! ' " Traveller's Rest " was part of the " 200 
acres of land on ye freshes of Rappahannock 
River " bequeathed to Mary Ball by her father, 
Joseph Ball. The family of Gray long lived at 
" Traveller's Rest," and thither in after years, At- 
cheson Gray brought his child-wife Catherine Willis, 
the great-granddaughter of Mary Washington. 

These are only a few of the country gentry 
among whom Mary Washington lived, and to 
whom she was related. Time would fail to de- 
scribe them all --Colonel Thomas Ludwell Lee 
of "Berry Hill"; " Bellevue " and its occupants; 
the Brent family at Richland, in Stafford County; 
" Belle Plaine," the residence of the Waugh family. 

In and Around Fredericksburg 137 

All these places were in a space of eight or ten 
square miles, and from generation to generation 
the sons looked upon the daughters of their 
neighbor cousins, and found them fair, until the 
families were knit together in every conceivable 
degree of kinship. 

In the town of Fredericksburg Mary Washing- 
ton had near relatives and friends. Roger Gregory, 
the merry-hearted, had married a woman as merry- 
hearted as himself, Mildred Washington, George 
Washington's aunt and godmother. Foremost at 
the races, and first on all occasions of mirth, was 
Roger Gregory. It has been said that Augustine 
Washington was optimistic in his temperament, 
and, like his sister Mildred, conspicuous for cheer- 
fulness also that from him Betty Washington 
and her brothers inherited their love for gay, social 
life that Mary Washington was always serious, 
and in her later years almost tragic. She surely 
had enough, poor lady, to make her so. 

Roger Gregory had died just before George 
Washington was born, and his widow married 
Henry Willis of " Willis's Hill," Fredericksburg, 
afterwards " Marye's Heights," where the fierce 
battle of the Civil War was fought. Mildred's 
three charming Gregory girls were prominent 
figures as they trod the streets of old Fredericks- 
burg the streets named after the Royal Princes 
clad in their long cloaks and gypsy bonnets tied 

138 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

under their chins. They were soon absorbed by a 
trio of Thorntons, and their mother Mildred left 
alone with her one son, Lewis Willis. " Old Henry 
Willis," his father, had married three times, boasting 
that he " had courted his wives as maids and married 
them as widows." He was a rich old fellow with a 
long pedigree and gorgeous coat of arms on his coach 
panels. Mildred Gregory had wept so bitterly when 
the death of his first wife was announced to her, that 
a friend expressed surprise. " Mildred Willis," she 
explained, " was my namesake and cousin, and I 
grieve to lose her. But that is not the worst of it ! 
I am perfectly sure old Henry Willis will soon be 
coming down to see me --and I don't know what 
in the world I can do with him ! ' Would it be 
sinister to suggest that the lady was already won ? 
It appears she knew her man. Had he not been 
her suitor in her girlhood ? His grandson says, " In 
one little month he sat himself at her door and 
commenced a regular siege : and in less than two 
months after his wife's death he married her." 

If the shade of this wife was permitted to be a 
troubled witness of her recent husband's marriage, 
she could not complain. She had been herself the 
widow, Brown, only for one month before she had 
married Henry Willis. 

This Colonel Henry Willis was known as " The 
Founder of Fredericksburg." Colonel William 
Byrd visited him immediately after his marriage 

J * O 

In and Around Fredericksburg 139 

with Mildred Gregory, and spoke of him as "the 
top man of the place." Mildred Washington 
(Widow Gregory) had one son by her marriage 
with Henry Willis. She named him for her first 
husband her first love Lewis. He was two 
years younger than his cousin, George Washington. 
The boys attended the same school, and were com- 
panions and playmates. Lewis Willis often spoke 
of George Washington's industry and assiduity at 
school as very remarkable. While his brother 
Samuel, Lewis Willis, and " the other boys at play- 
time were at bandy or other games, George was 
behind a door cyphering. But one day he aston- 
ished the school by romping with one of the large 
girls- -a thing so unusual that it excited no little 
comment among the other lads." 

Through the Willis family Mary Washington's 
descendants became allied to the Bonapartes. The 
second child of Byrd C. Willis (son of Lewis Willis) 
was Catherine. Her mother was the daughter of 
George Lewis, Betty Washington's son. Thus 
Mary Washington was ancestress of Catherine 
Willis, who at thirteen years of age married, and at 
fourteen was a widow, having lost also her child. 
She accompanied her parents to Pensacola, where 
she married Achille Murat, ex-prince of Naples and 
nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. She was very 
beautiful this child twice married and a mother 
before she was fifteen. 

140 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

The Murat and Bonaparte families at first opposed 
the marriage, but all opposition vanished when they 
learned that she was nearly related to General 

It is said that she was well received" abroad : " In 
London she stood up for her country and fought 

Prince Murat. 

its battles in all companies." She was once accom- 
panied by John Randolph of Roanoke and other 
distinguished personages on a visit to the London 
art galleries. In one of these the portraits of 
Washington and Napoleon hung side by side, and 
Randolph (who was always dramatic), pointing to 

In and Around Fredericksburg 141 

the pictures, said, " Before us we have Napoleon 
and Washington, one the founder of a mighty Em- 
pire, the other of a great Republic." Then turning 
to Catherine with extended hand, " Behold ! ' he 
exclaimed, "in -the Princess Murat the niece of 
both a distinction which she alone can claim." 

As the century neared its highest noon Fred- 
ericksburg became the home of one and another 
ot the men destined to earn immortal fame in the 
Revolution. James Monroe lived there, whose 
hand, long since mingled with the dust, has yet the 
power to stay the advance of nations. Men of 
wealth secured the pleasant society all around by a 
residence in the town. As many as ten coaches 
were wont to drive out in company when the sum- 
mer exodus to the springs set in. 

There was a famous tailor in Fredericksburg who 
made the lace-trimmed garments for these gentry, 
William Paul, a Scotchman. Hanging in his shop, 
was a handsome portrait of "my sailor brother 
John" as he explained to his customers. Anon the 
tailor died, and John came over to administer upon 
his estate. He found friends Colonel Willy Jones 
and Doctor Brooke who aided him materially 
in the first years of his life in Fredericksburg. In 
gratitude to the former he assumed the name of 
" Jones," and the latter he made surgeon of the 
Bon Homme Richard for this was John Paul Jones 
the great, the brilliant naval officer of our Revolu- 

142 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

tion. Congress gave him a commission and a ship, 
The Alfred, and on board that ship he hoisted before 
Philadelphia, with his own hands, the flag of free- 
dom the first time it was displayed. He claimed 
and received the first salute the flag of the infant 
Republic received from a foreign power. He served 
through the war, and at his death was the senior 

O ' 

officer of the United States navy. 




essential principles in the drama of 
human life are ever the same although its 
outward aspect changes with changing 
circumstances. But in some ages events develop 
more rapidly than in others under the urgency of 
peculiar conditions. 

In colonial Virginia the story was told over and 
over again before the final fall of the curtain. Scenes 
shifted with wonderful rapidity. The curtain, in 
mimic drama, is usually rung down at the church 
door after the early or late wooing and marriage ; 
but in Virginia in the eighteenth century this was 
only the first in a drama of five or more acts. The 
early death of the first bride left a vacancy speedily 
filled by new and successive unions with new associa- 
tions and combinations. Five times was not an 
unusual number for men to remarry. 

This meant five wooings, five weddings, five 
" infairs," many births (varying in number from one 
to twenty-six), five funerals, all to be included in 
thirty adult years more or less. Then, too, there 
were five tombstones to be erected and as many 


144 I ne Mother of Washington and her Times 

epitaphs to be composed- - no two of which to be 
alike. One wife (usually the first) almost exhausts 
the vocabulary of adoring affection, another's piety 
is emphasized, another " lived peacably with her 
neighbors " ; each one was " as a wife dutiful." 
" Obedient " was a word dear to the colonial 

We have no authority for supposing that the 
officiating clergyman at a funeral was ever actually 
retained for the ensuing nuptials of the bereaved. 
Initial steps in that direction were never taken in 
Virginia until a husband or wife was well under the 
sod. Divorce being unknown, unthinkable indeed, 
husbands and wives were united in bonds indisso- 
luble, until death did them part. But when it did 
whv, then there was no reasonable cause for delay. 

J * J 

It was not at all unusual for the new husband to 
offer for probate the will of his predecessor. Man 
in those days did not believe he was made to mourn, 
at least not for maid or matron, nor that charming 
women were created to weep in widow's weeds beyond 
the decent period of two months. The little hands 
were firmly drawn from their pressure upon the 
tearful eyes, tucked comfortably under a new, strong 
arm, and the widow's little baronry stitched to a new 
sleeve. There were exceptions, of course, but not 
many. When one of the husbands of Mary Wash- 
ington's charming nieces (the Gregory girls) lay 
mortally ill, he looked up with anguish at the lovely 

Social Characteristics and Customs 145 

young wife bending over him, and implored her to 
keep herself for him. She readily promised never 
again to marry, and kept her promise. Another, 
left a widow, essayed to follow the sublime example 
of her sister. One of the masterful Thorntons sued 
for twenty years, but won at last. The statute of 
limitations in Cupid's court held for twenty years 
only in colonial Virginia. 

Writers of the period explain these multiplied 
marriages by the necessity of a protector for every 
woman owning land to be cultivated by negro 
slaves and indented servants, and on the other 
hand the woful state of a large family of young 
children left motherless at the mercy of those ser- 
vants. The new master and the new mother be- 
came a necessity. 

It sometimes happened that the newly contract- 
ing parties had already many children from the 
three or four previous marriages. These must now 
be brought under one sheltering roof. The little 
army must be restrained by strict government ; 
hence the necessity for the stern parental discipline 
of colonial times. " It is gratifying, my dear," said 
an amiable patriarch, " to find that your children, my 
children, and our children can live so peacefully 
together," nobody knowing so well as the patriarch 
and the children at what price the peace had been 

Thus it can be easily seen how maddening an 

146 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

enterprise is the attempt to trace Virginia relation- 
ships, and how we so often lose a woman and give 
her over as dead to find her resurrected under a 
new name. We once lost Mary Washington's 
sister Hannah (Ball) Travers. She turned up at 
last as Mrs. Pearson ! To sort and label and 
classify Virginia cousins means nervous prostra- 
tion. In the families of Thornton, Carter, and their 
kin, it means more ! Madness lies that way ! 

The spinster of uncertain age, known irreverently 
as an "old maid," was a rare individual in colonial 
Virginia. We all know Colonel Byrd's " Miss 
Thekky, mourning her virginity." We really can- 
not name another. 

When a good man, addressing himself to the 
compilation of family records for his children, was 
constrained to admit that one was unmarried, he 
made haste to declare that she " lived single by her 
own choice." Colonel Byrd Willis says of his 
daughter Mary, "She is unmarried but by her 
own choice. It will be a fine fellow who can tempt 
her to leave her home. She has not seen him yet ! ' 
He goes on to enumerate her social triumphs. 
There had been a " Bouquet Ball," of which a 
certain commodore was made king. He chose 
Miss Mary Willis, and bestowed upon her the 
bouquet. A foot-note informs us that she isn't 
single any more ! She has married the commo- 
dore ! 

Social Characteristics and Customs 

Stern as was the parental discipline of the time, 
the spirit of the young men, who were accounted 

Colonel Byrd. 

grown and marriageable at nineteen, was in no 
wise broken or quenched. Many of them ran away 

148 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

from their masters at the schools in England and 
Scotland, and their fathers' agents had much ado 
to find and capture them again. The sons of John 
Spotswood were lost in England for many months, 
but were back home again in time to be gallant 
officers in the Revolution. And even the conserv- 
ative blood of the Washingtons was not strong 
enough to temper that of the Willises, for Mildred 
Washington's grandson "Jack' Willis ran away 
from school and joined a party to explore the 
wilderness of Kentucky. They were attacked by 
Indians, and were scattered; Jack escaped in a 
canoe, and was the first white man to descend the 
Ohio and Mississippi rivers. His father had sewed 
some doubloons in his jacket, but he gave them to 
a man in New Orleans to purchase clothing and 
food, and never again beheld his agent or the 
doubloons or their equivalent. He worked his 
way in a sailing vessel to New York, and walked 
from New York to his home in Virginia, arriv- 
ing, like the Spotswood boys, just in time to enter 
the army with his father and serve to its close. 
He was a son of Lewis Willis, Washington's school- 

About 1740 the importation of horses of the 
English racing stock commenced, also the breeding 
of horses for racing. Between 1740 and 1775 are 
recorded the names of fifty imported horses and 
thirty mares of note : Aristotle, Babraham, Bolton, 

Social Characteristics and Customs 149 

Childers, Dabster, Dottrell, Dimple, Fearnaught, 
Jolly Roger, Juniper, Justice, Merry Tom, Sober 
John, Vampire, Whittington, Janus, Sterling, Val- 
iant, etc. Owners of these horses among Mary 
Washington's neighbors were Roger Gregory, Colo- 
nel John Mercer of " Marlboro," Mr. Spotswood, 
William Fitzhugh of " Chatham," all the Thorntons, 
and later Colonel George Washington of Mount Ver- 
non, who was a steward of the Alexandria Jockey 
Club and ran his own horses there and at Annapolis ! 
There was a fine race-course at Fredericksburg, and 
purses were won from ten to a hundred pounds. 
This, the prime amusement in spring, summer, and 
autumn, was varied (alas!) by cock-fights, wrestling- 
matches, and rough games, in which the common 
people, as in England, participated, while the gentry 
looked on and awarded prizes. But in the long 
winter evenings, neighbors gathered for Christmas 
and other house-parties, indulged in the gentle art 
of story-telling. Later, old Fredericksburg boasted 
a notable, peerless raconteur, John Minor, but his 
stories were built upon Virginia's legends ; his 
home, " Hazel Hill," was the rendezvous of all the 
neighbors, young and old, in quest of sympathy 
or counsel, or advice in the honorable settlement of 
quarrels, or for a season of genial companionship. 
Around the fireside at "Hazel Hill" the children 
would gather for their own story-telling hour " be- 
tween daylight and dark," and there the immortal 

150 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" B'rer Rabbit " appears, but not for the first time, in 
the annals of colonial history, and her Serene High- 
ness, the " Tar Baby," held her nightly court. 

Around the winter fireside in the old colonial 
houses, the children, and their seniors as well, 
learned the folk-lore of their native colony, for, young 
as was the new country, Virginia had already her 
legends : the mystic light on the lake in the Dismal 
Swamp, where the lost lovers paddled their ghostly 
canoe ; the footprints of the Great Spirit on the 
rocks near Richmond; the story of Maiden's Ad- 
venture on the James River ; the story of the 
Haunted House the untenanted mansion at Church 
Hill- - untenanted for eight decades because the 
unhappy spirit of a maiden tapped with her fan on 
the doors where wedded couples slept, invoking 
curses upon love that had failed her ; of sweet 
Evelyn Byrd, who rested not under her monument 
at Westover, but glided among the roses, wringing 
her hands in hopeless grief for the loss of a mortal's 
love ; and of the legend of the wonderful curative 
spring just discovered in Greenbrier County (learned 
from an old Indian of the tribe of the Shawnees)- 
how one of the great braves had once been missed 
from the council-fires and been found in a valley, 
weak and supine, binding the brows of an Indian 
maid with ferns and flowers ; how two arrows had 
sped by order of the Great Spirit, one destined for the 
man, one for the maid; how the recreant warrior had 



Social Characteristics and Customs 151 

been slain by the one, but the other arrow had buried 
itself in the earth and when withdrawn a great, white 
sulphur spring had gushed forth ; how the maiden 
was doomed to wander as long as the stream flowed, 
and not until it ceased could her spirit be reunited 
to that of her lover in the happy hunting-grounds ; 
also how the body of the slain warrior was laid 
towards the setting sun, and the form of the sleep- 
ing giant might be clearly discerned despite the trees 
that grew over it. 

And one more Indian legend is so charming that 
we may be forgiven for perpetuating it on these 
pages, remembering that these are genuine Indian 
legends which have never before been printed. This 
last was the story of the Mocking-bird. How once 
long ago there were no wars or fightings, or toma- 
hawks or scalpings among the Indians. They were 
at perfect peace under the smile of the Great Spirit. 
And in this beautiful time those who watched at 
night could hear a strange, sweet song sweeping over 
the hills and filling the valleys, now swelling, now 
dying away to come again. This was the music of 
all things ; moon, stars, tides, and winds, moving 
in harmony. But at last Okee, the Evil One, stirred 
the heart of the red man against his brother, and 
the nations arrayed themselves in battle. From that 
moment the song was heard no more. The Great 
Spirit, Kiwassa, knew that his children bemoaned 
their loss, and he promised them the song should 

152 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

not be lost forever. It would be found some day 
by some brave - - loftier, better, stronger, than all 

It fell at last that a chieftain loved the daughter 
of a hostile chief. Both were captured and burned 
at the stake. Both died bravely, each comforting 
the other. After death the chief, because he had 
been so brave, was given the body of a bird, and 
sent in quest of the Lost Song. When he found it, 
and only then, could all be forgiven and the spirits 
of the lovers be reunited in the happy hunting- 
grounds. Since then the bird has travelled north, 
south, east, west, and wherever it goes it learns the 
songs of all creatures, learns and repeats them. 
But the hatchet is not yet buried ; the Lost Song 
not yet found. Imagination can supply few pictures 
fairer than this : firelight playing on the attentive 
faces of old cavaliers and matrons, young men and 
lovely maidens, the centre their accomplished host, 
" the pink of a chivalric gentleman," gallant, cultured, 
refined, and at his knees, in his arms, and seated on 
his shoulders, happy children, not only those of his 
house-party, but others among his neighbors who 
dropped in especially for the children's hour. 

It is evident that Mary Washington's social life 
must have been an active one. At the weddings 
and the christenings of her large circle of neighbors 
and kindred she was certainly present. But I doubt 
whether she ever attended the races, " Fish Frys, 

Social Characteristics and Customs 153 

and Barbecues," of which her neighbors were so 
fond. Not that she ventured to express disapproval 
of things with which the clergy found no fault, but 
she was a strict economist of time, never wasting it 
on trifles. She kept her own accounts, managed her 
own plantation, and kept a stern watch on the over- 
seers of her son's estates. 

To do this, and at the same time fill her place in 
her large circle of friends, whose relations with her 
warranted their coming at will for long visits, re- 
quired all the method and management of which 
she was capable. 

Besides the householders, wich their sons and 
daughters, who regularly exchanged visits with each 
other at least once or twice annually, Virginia had 
also her class of impecunious bachelors, whose prac- 
tice was to visit from house to house, taking in all 
the well-to-do families. Until the Revolution 
when they had something else to do they repre- 
sented the class of hangers-on to wealth, known 
to-day as "the little brothers of the rich," -very 
nice, adaptable, agreeable gentlemen, whom every- 
body likes, and to whom society is willing to give 
much, exacting little in return. In pre-Revolution- 
ary Virginia, however, they could and did give some- 
thing. They gathered the news from house to 
house, brought letters and the northern papers ; 
were intelligent couriers, in short, who kept the 
planter well-advised of all political rumors. They 

154 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

possessed certain social accomplishments, could 
carve fairy baskets out of cherry stones, cut pro- 
file portraits to be laid on a black background, and 
make and mend pens to perfection. " When I was 
in Stafford County a month ago," says the tutor at 
"Nomini Hall," "I met 1 Captain John Lee, a Gentle- 
man who seems to copy the character of Addison's 
Will Wimble. He was then just sallying out on 
his Winter's Visits, and has got now so far as here ; 
he stays, as I am told, about eight or ten weeks in 
the yeare at his own House, the remaining part he 
lives with his Waiting Man on his Friends." Cap- 
tain Lee, by the way, is further recorded as " a 
distant cousin of the Lees of Westmoreland." 

In making these visits to the large country houses, 
young people would naturally confer together and 
manage to meet those they knew best and liked 
best. Thus it would sometimes happen (and who so 
willing as the hosts ?) that a large house-party would 
assemble unheralded, and the house be filled with a 
merry company. " The usual retinue," says General 
Maury, " at my wife's home was fifteen or more well- 
trained servants when the house was full of company ; 
and as many as thirty or more of the family and 
friends daily dined there together for weeks and 
months at a time." This was at Cleveland, near 
Fredericksburg ; and hospitality quite as generous 
ruled all the homes in Mary Washington's neighbor- 

1 Fithian's Diary. 

Social Characteristics and Customs 155 

It sometimes happened that the capacity of the 
elastic house reached its limit. On one such rare occa- 
sion a belated Presbyterian minister alighted at the 
front gate and walked in with his baggage, - - a pair of 
well-worn saddle-bags. He was warmly welcomed, 
of course, but the lady of the manor was in despair. 
Where could he sleep? Every corner was full. 
One couldn't ask a clergyman to spend the night 
on a settee in the passageway, nor lie upon a " pal- 
let >: of quilts on the parlor floor. The children 
heard the troubled consultation as to ways and 
means with their " Mammy," and were full of sym- 
pathy for the homeless, unsheltered guest. The 
situation was still serious when the household was 
summoned to family prayers. The clergyman a 
gaunt specimen with a beaklike nose and mournful 
voice launched into the one hundred and second 
Psalm, pouring out, as the pitying children thought, 
his own soul in its homeless desolation. When he 
reached the words, " I am like a pelican in the wil- 
derness : I am like an owl in the desert : I am as a 
sparrow alone upon the housetop," the exultant 
voice of the youngest little girl rang out, " Mamma, 
be can roost on the tester /' One cannot wonder at 
this advice from a hospitable man who had been 
literally "eaten out of house and home," " I advise 
my son to keep out of other people's houses, and 
keep other people out of his own." 

One can hardly imagine the care and labor in- 

156 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

volved in so much entertaining. Nobody ever 
passed a house without calling; nobody ever left it 
without refreshment for man and beast. Horses 
and servants attended every visitor. 

Think of the quantity of food to be provided ! 
And yet, a housewife's batterie de cuisine was of the 
simplest. The kitchen fireplace held the iron pot 

The Kitchen of Mount Vernon. 

for boiling the indispensable and much-respected 
gammon of bacon (Virginia ham), and there were 
lidded ovens, large and small, standing high on four 
feet, that coals might burn brightly beneath them. 
There was a " skillet," with its ever ascending in- 
cense from frying chickens and batter-cakes, a 
long-handled utensil with no feet at all, but rest- 
ing upon the portable, triangular "trevet," which, 

Social Characteristics and Customs 157 

being light, could be thrust into the very heart of 
the fire or drawn out on the fire-proof dirt floor. 
There was a " hoe," known as a cooking utensil 
only in Virginia, slanting before the coals for the 
thin hoe-cake of Indian meal. In front stood the 
glory and pride of the kitchen, the spit, like two 
tall andirons with deeply serrated sides, on which 
iron rods holding flesh and fowl could rest and be 
turned to roast equally. An ample pan beneath 
caught the basting-butter and juices of the meat. 
This spit held an exposed position, and has been 
known to be robbed now and then by some unman- 
nerly hound, or wandering Caleb Balderstone, un- 
able to resist such temptations. What would the 
modern queen of the kitchen think of " a situation ' 
involving such trials, her own wood often to be 
brought by herself, her breakfast, including four or 
five kinds of bread (wafHes, biscuit thick and 
thin, batter-cakes, loaf bread), her poultry to be 
killed and plucked by herself, her coffee to be 
roasted, fish scaled and cleaned, meats cut from 
a carcass and trimmed, to say nothing of cakes, 
puddings, and pies ? And all this to be done for a 
perennial house-party, with its footmen and maids ! 
True, the negro cook of colonial times had many 
"kitchen-maids," her own children. But even 
with these her achievements were almost super- 
natural. With her half-dozen utensils she served 
a dinner that deserved and has immortality! 

158 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" Old Phyllis," the cook at " Blenheim," " Mammy 
Lucy " at Cleveland, and many others have a high 
place in an old Virginian's Hall of Fame, his 
heart ! 

There was no lack of service in Mary Wash- 
ington's day. The negro was docile, affectionate, 
and quick to learn, at least these were the char- 
acteristics of those employed in households. But 
even as late as in Mary Ball's girlhood the ne- 
groes had no language intelligible to their em- 
ployers. One of the Lancaster clergymen, Mr. 
Bell, writes that his congregation includes many 
" negroes, who cannot understand my language nor 
I theirs." There is something infinitely pathetic in 
this picture of the homeless savage in a strange land. 
The African, finding himself not understood, made 
haste to acquire the language spoken to him. His 
intimate association was with the indented white men 
who labored with him, and he then and there created a 
language distinctively known as his own, to which 
he still clings and which contains, I believe, no word 
that can be traced to African origin- -at least this is 
true of the Virginia negro's dialect. " It appears that 
the indented servants from whom he learned must 
have come from Warwickshire. The negro dialect 
can be found in Shakespeare; 1 for instance, ' trash,' 
afterwards accentuated by c po' white trash.' 'What 
trash is Rome, what rubbish, what offal,' says 

1 " Warwickshire Dialect," by Mr. Appleton Morgan. 

Social Characteristics and Customs 159 

Cassius. ' They are trash,' says lago, etc. ' Ter- 
rify,' for ' aggravate ' or ' destroy,' is Warwick- 
shire ; also ' his'n,' ' her'n,' for ' his ' and ' hers ' ; 
' howsomdever,' for 'however' (Venus and Adonis] ; 
' gawm,' for 'soiling hands or face'; ' yarbs,' for 
'herbs'; 'make,' for 'kindle' (make the fire); 
'like,' for 'likely' (I was like to fall); 'peart,' for 
'lively'; 'traipsing,' for 'walking idly about'; 
' ooman,' for ' woman ' ; ' sallit,' for 'green stuff' ; 
' yourn,' for " yours.' These and many more negro 
words are taken from Warwickshire dialect, and 
are to be found in Shakespeare." Upon this root 
the negro grafted, without regard to its meaning, 
any and every high-sounding word which he 
happened to hear, and which seemed to him 
magnificent. The meaning signified so little that 
he never deemed it necessary to ask it. The result 
was, to say the least, picturesque. 

The church being his earliest school, he was soon 
impressed by the names of certain of the Hebrew 
Patriarchs, and the first names with which he en- 
dowed his children were Aaron, Moses, Abraham, 
Isaac, Jacob, and Isaiah. Why he scorned Jeremiah, 
Nahum, Ezekiel, and others, is best known to him- 
self. Later, he caught from the companionship of 
the schoolboys the names of the heroes of antiquity, 
giving decided preference to Pompey and Caesar. 
There was a Josephus in a Fredericksburg family, 
differentiated in the next generation by 7/wsephus. 

160 The Mother of Washington and her Times 
Later still his fancy was caught by the shining lights 

J O J O O 

of the Revolution. A goodly crop followed of 
Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Randolphs. There 
was even a Rochambeau, unhappily corrupted into 
" Rushingbow." 

While the queen of the nursery was an ebony 
incarnation of faithful love, tenderness, and patience, 
she never surrendered her sceptre until her charges 
were actually married. She never condescended to 
be taught by those to whom she had herself been 
teacher. " Mammy," exclaimed a little Fredericks- 
burg maiden of ten, " what do you think ? I have 
found an ungrammatical error in the Bible." " Kill 
him, honey ! Kill him quick ! He'll eat up the 
pretty book-mark ! ' exclaimed the old nurse, too 
proud to acknowledge her ignorance of the beautiful 
new word. 

" Po' white trash " was a term applied to all 
householders who could not afford style in living 
and equipage, notably to those (and they were few) 
who owned no slaves. There was no squalor, no 
pauperism in Virginia in 1740 and later. Even 
indented servants prospered sufficiently after a few 
years to send to England for servants of their own. 
The convict labor of Virginia was mainly employed 
in the fields and on the boats ; and it is recorded 
that these convicts were short-lived, the hot sun 
giving them always a " seasoning fever" which often 
proved fatal. Of course political convicts were of a 

Social Characteristics and Customs 161 

different class, and when found to have been educated 
were employed as teachers. 

Entirely distinct from these was the class who 
were entitled to write "Gent" after their names, as 
their English fathers had done. " The term ' Gen- 
tleman,' 1 ' says Mr. Lyon Tyler, "assumed a very 
general meaning in the succeeding century, but its 
signification at this time was perhaps what Sir Ed- 
ward Coke ascribed to it, qui gerit arma, one who 
bears arms." 

It was not the custom then as now to address a 
man without some prefix. He was " Squire " if he 
was a member of the King's Council ; " Gent " if he 
bore arms, otherwise " Mr. " ; and if in humble life, 
"Goodman." Womenof any degree were " Mistress" 
Mistress Evelyn Byrd, Mistress Mary Stagg ; in 
middle class, " Dame " ; of gentle blood, " Madam ' 
and " Lady." In the Virginia Gazette " Lady Wash- 
ington's " comings and goings are duly chronicled. 
Even now the Virginian loves to endow his fellows 
with a title, and risks " Colonel ' in default of a 

The Virginia woman, at the period of which we 
write, felt keenly the disadvantage of her remoteness 
from that centre of knowledge and courtly usage, the 
mother country. Men who were educated abroad 
began to accumulate books for ambitious libraries, 
but these books were largely in the Latin tongue, 
and the Virginia girl had not the courage of Queen 


162 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Elizabeth, and did not address herself to the study 
of the Classics that she might " match the men." She 
had good, strong sense, and the faculty known as 
mother-wit, but I am afraid I must confess she had 
small learning. What time had she --married at 
fifteen to read or study ? As to Mary Wash- 

j j 

ington, her library, for aught we know to the con- 
trary, seems to have begun and ended with " Sir 
Matthew Hale." In 1736 Mr. Parks published his 
Virginia Gazette for fifteen shillings a year. Bev- 
erley & Stith had published their " Histories," and 
William Byrd his " Pamphlets." These she may 
have read ; but it is extremely doubtful whether she 
read the poems and other society doings, records 
of races and other happenings, which appeared 
weekly in the Gazette^ or approved of seeing the 
names, qualities, and fortunes of the ladies recorded 
as frankly as at the present day. 

These ladies were the daughters, sisters, and wives 
of men of brilliant genius and attainments. They 
could hardly sustain such relations with such men 
without becoming themselves superior women. Dr. 
Archibald Alexander knew Mrs. Meredith, the 
sister of Patrick Henry. " She was, in my judg- 
ment, as eloquent as her brother ; nor have I ever 
met with a lady who equalled her in powers of 

Something then was said of a woman besides what 
she wore, whither she went, and whom she entertained 

Social Characteristics and Customs 163 

at dinner and tea. There were women of whom the 
Gazette kindly said they possessed " amiable sweet- 
ness of disposition, joined with the finest intellectual 
attainments," but I am constrained to challenge the 
latter if it presupposes the attainments to have been 
literary. How could it be otherwise when Thomas 
Jefferson prescribed that his daughter's time should 
be divided between dancing, music, and French ? 
And when Charles Carter, of " Cleve," after ordering 
that his sons, John and Landon, then in England, 
should master languages, mathematics, philosophy, 
dancing, fencing, law, adds, " And whereas the ex- 
travagance of the present age, and the flattering 
hopes of great. Fortunes may be a temptation to 
run into unnecessary Expenses of Living, it is my 
positive Will and desire that my Daughters may 
be maintained with great frugality, and taught to 

The young women whose brothers had tutors 
at home were fortunate. They learned to " read 
and write and cypher." Then there were men 

" Glad to turn itinerant 

to stroll and teach from town to town ' 

and from plantation to plantation. From these the 
young ladies had their music and dancing lessons. 
Their letters are very stilted and polite, poor 
dears, but "intellectual attainments' do not ap- 
pear in many of them. They usually end with 

164 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

laying upon a bad pen all the blame for all short- 
comings. " Excuse bad spelling and writing, for 
I have ane ill pen," said Jeanie Deans. The 
colonial ladies made no apology for their pho- 
netic spelling. Was not that all right ? If 
" hir " did not spell " her," pray, what did it 
spell ? " Bin ' was surely more reasonable than 
"been" ; " tha "' than "they." There were " Dix- 
onaries " in the closets along with the Latin books, 
but they were troublesome, and not always to be 
trusted. Dr. Johnson if we can imagine him as 
such was in their day a sweet babe in long 
clothes ! 

When the slow-sailing ships arrived from England 
one might have the fashions ot six months ago. 

English cousins sometimes came over, and very 
nervous were the Virginia girls lest the Western 
menage should be found to be behind the times. 
Among old letters a certain Miss Ambler appears 
to have been dreadfully aggrieved by the criticisms 
of some English cousins. " Everything we eat, 
drink or wear seems to be wrong the rooms are 
too cold or too hot ; the wood is not laid straight 
on the Andirons : and even poor Aunt Dilsey does 
not escape censure, dear Aunt Dilsey whom we 
all so love ! Actually, Aunt Dilsey came to me in 
tears, and said she had been ordered to pull down 
her bandanna so that none of her wool would show 
in the back of her poor neck, and to draw cotton 

Social Characteristics and Customs 


gloves over her hands for they were ' so black and 

> i 

Many of the Virginians, at that early day, were 
advocates of negro emancipation. James Monroe, 

James Monroe. 

who lived in Fredericksburg, was the great friend 
of emancipation. Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, 
was named in his honor. It was a citizen of Frede- 
ricksburg, in 1782, who introduced into the body, 

166 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

which had replaced the House of Burgesses, the 
first resolution for the emancipation of negroes and 
for the prohibition of the slave trade ever offered in 
America. General John Minor, of " Hazel Hill," 
was the author and advocate of this measure. In 
1792 the first-published utterance against slavery 
in this country appeared in a tract entitled, " Slavery 
Inconsistent with Justice and Good Policy," by the 
Rev. David Rice. When estates were settled large 
numbers of negroes were manumitted by common 
consent and sent to Liberia. 

We have reason to believe that house servants 
were treated with the affectionate consideration they 
deserved. Mr. Custis distinctly declares that this 


was true of Mary Washington, that she was al- 
ways kind to her servants, and considerate of their 
comfort. The man or woman who treated servants 
with severity was outlawed from the friendship and 
respect of his neighbors, many of whom at a later 
day freed their slaves and left them land to live 




il p "^HE search-lights of history have unfolded to us 
nothing of interest touching Mrs. Washington 
from the time of the French and Indian War 
until the awakening of the great Revolution. Fortunate is 
the woman, said the Greek of old, of whom neither good 
nor ill is spoken. And, curtained away from the world, 
the matron lived under the great Taskmaster's eye, in the 
bosom of that home, by whose fruit ye shall know her. 
Many years had rolled by since she settled at ' Pine Grove,' 
with her first-born son. And, while she lived in retirement 
and in silence, how had great events rushed forward ; how 
had the child become the father to the man ? Grave tasks 
were his while yet a boy. Step by step he ascended the 
ladder of honor and usefulness. A surveyer for Lord Fair- 
fax at sixteen, crossing the Blue Ridge on horseback, trav- 
ersing the wilderness to the bounds of civilization, getting 
six pistoles, or something more than $7 a day, for his 
efficient service, while in leisure hours he read under 
the guidance of Lord Fairfax, the history of England, the 
' Spectator,' and other books of that high order ; appointed 
public surveyor a little later, and then adjutant-general ot 
Virginia troops at nineteen ; managing a great plantation 
and training the Militia of the State; at twenty-one pene- 
trating the Northwest as a negotiator for Governor Din- 
widdie, and fighting the French ; aide-de-camp to Braddock, 


1 68 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

a little later, in his ill-starred expedition, suffering defeat ; 
with the victor at Fort Duquesne, where Pittsburg now 
stands, at twenty-six ; member of the Virginia House of 
Burgesses at twenty-seven ; ever onward, ever upward, 
until, as the great Revolution broke out, we find him 
journeying to Philadelphia as a delegate to the Continental 
Congress, and presently appearing on the field of Boston as 
commander-in-chief of the Continental army ! 

Thus spoke, out of the fulness of his heart, Sen- 
ator Daniel at the unveiling of the Mary Washing- 
ton monument, but the truth is that these years 
were marked by many cares and anxieties. Five 
times had Samuel Washington married : Jane 
Champe, Mildred Thornton, Lucy Chapman, 
Anne Steptoe, the widow Perrin. This list sounds 
like a chapter from the reign of Henry the Eighth. 
Tradition says he was separated from some of his 
wives otherwise than by death. It is certain he was 
unfortunate in money matters, having many chil- 
dren and finding it " hard to get along." His 
brother was always helping him. His children 
were much at Mount Vernon, especially Steptoe 
Washington and Harriett Washington, whose names 
appear frequently upon the general's expense book. 
He enters various items against Harriett, ear- 
rings and necklace and many garments. He be- 
moans, " She was not brung up right ! She has no 
disposition, and takes no care of her clothes, which 
are dabbed about in every corner and the best are 

A True Portrait of Mary Washington 169 

always in use." " In God's name," he writes to 
his brother, John Augustine, " how has Samuel 
managed to get himself so enormously in debt?' 
He found places from time to time for many of 
Samuel's sons, and was never other than good to 

John Augustine Washington, the general's favor- 
ite brother, married Hannah Bushrod, and settled 
in Westmoreland. Charles, the youngest, married 
Mildred Thornton of the Fall-Hill Thorntons, 
near Fredericksburg. His home was in Charles- 
town, Jefferson County. Of him the world has 
known but little. In the presence of a planet of 
the first magnitude the little stars are not observed. 

Mary Washington was now alone at " Pine Grove." 
Her windows commanded Fredericksburg and the 
wharf, where the ships from England unloaded rich 
stuffs to tempt the Virginian, loading again with 
sweet-scented tobacco for the old country that had 
so quickly learned to love the luxury from the new. 
It is doubtful whether she ever bought from these 
vessels. She certainly never sold to them. In 
1760 she writes to her brother Joseph in England, 
excusing herself for having sent him no letters, 
" As I don't ship tobacco the Captains never call on 
me, soe that I never know when tha come and when 
tha goe." She was a busy woman, minding her 
own affairs and utterly free from idle curiosity. Her 
life was full of interest and occupation. The con- 

170 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

scientious housewife of her day was burdened with 
many cares. The large plantation must support 
itself. Nearer than Annapolis and Williamsburg 
were no shops or stores from which supplies could 
be drawn. The large number of servants living on 
the plantations demanded great quantities of food 
and clothing, and the farm work many utensils, 
all of which were manufactured on the farm itself. 
The diary of a New Jersey tutor gives us interesting 
accounts of life in the Westmoreland neighborhood, 
where lived the Lees, Carters, Washingtons, Tayloes, 
and other large landholders. Higher up, near 
Mount Vernon, dwelt George Mason of (f Gunston 
Hall," and his son, John, is our eye-witness-chron- 
icler of the plantation life near Mary Washington. 

" It was the practice of gentlemen of landed and slave 
estates so to organize them as to have resources within 
themselves. Thus my father had among his slaves carpen- 
ters, coopers, sawyers, blacksmiths, tanners, curriers, shoe- 
makers, spinners, weavers and knitters, and even a distiller. 
His woods furnished timber and plank for the carpenters and 
coopers, and charcoal for the blacksmith ; his cattle, killed 
for their own consumption, supplied skins for the tanners, 
curriers and shoemakers ; his sheep gave wool, his fields 
flax and cotton for the weavers; and his orchards fruit for 
the distiller. His carpenters and sawyers built and kept in 
repair all the dwelling houses, barns, stables, ploughs, 
harrows, gates, &c., on his plantation. His coopers made 
the hogsheads for tobacco and the casks to hold the liquors. 
The tanners and curriers tanned the skins for leather and 

A True Portrait of Mary Washington 171 

the shoemakers made them into shoes for the negroes. 
A Professed shoemaker was hired for three or four months 
in the year to come and make up the shoes for the family. 
The blacksmiths did all the iron work required on the 
plantation. The spinners and knitters made all the clothes 
and stockings used by the negroes, and some of finer texture 
worn by the ladies and children of the family. The 
distiller made apple, peach and persimmon brandy. A 
white man, a weaver of fine stuffs, was employed to super- 
intend the black weavers." 1 

To carry on these operations to cure and pre- 
serve meats, fruits, and medicinal herbs, make 
vinegar and cordials, and to prepare constantly for 
a great deal of company, coming incessantly to stay 
at the house required unceasing attention and 
strict method. 

This is a large pattern which was repeated on a 
smaller scale by Mary Washington. Method be- 
came, with her, almost a mania. Her neighbors 
set their watches by the ringing of her bells. She 
was never the fraction of a minute too late at church. 
She was punctiliously exact in her observance of all 
appointments and prompt to the minute in meeting 
those appointments. By the well-regulated clock 
in her entry the clock which is now preserved at 
" Kenmore" all the movements of her household 
were regulated. Her illustrious son had also such 
a clock. He graciously allowed, at dinner, five 
minutes for the possible variation of timepieces. 

1 "Life of George Mason," by Kate Mason Rowland. 

ij2 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

After they expired he would wait for no one. If 
an apologizing guest arrived after the dinner was 
advanced, his excuses were met with the simple 
announcement, " Sir, I have a cook who never asks 
whether the company has come, but whether the 
hour has come." His mother had taught him the 
value of time. Her teaching followed him through 
life, and was obeyed after he was President of the 

' j 

United States. The chaplain of Congress records 
that the hour of noon having been fixed for hearing 
the President's message, he usually crossed the 
threshold exactly as the clock was striking twelve. 

A contemporary observer relates that " Mrs. 
Washington never failed to receive visitors with a 
smiling, cordial welcome," but adds quaintly that 
" they were never asked twice to stay, and she 
always speeded the parting guest by affording every 
facility in her power." Perfectly sincere herself, 
she believed them sincere when they declared them- 
selves unable to remain. 

She was said to possess a dignity of manner that 
was at first somewhat repellent to a stranger, but 
always commanded thorough respect from her 
friends and acquaintances. Her voice was sweet, 
almost musical in its cadences, yet firm and decided, 
and she was always cheerful in spirit. "In her per- 
son she was of the middle size, and finely formed ; 
her features pleasing, yet strongly marked." 

Her young friends and grandchildren often 

A True Portrait of Mary Washington 173 

visited her. Lawrence Washington, her son's 
cousin and playmate, said: "I was more afraid of 
her than of my own parents and even when time 
had whitened my locks I could not behold that 
majestic woman without feelings it is impossible to 
describe. She awed me in the midst of kindness." 

" She was," said one of her family, " conspicuous 
for an awe-inspiring manner, so characteristic in the 
Father of our Country. All who knew her will 
remember the dignified matron as she appeared 
when the presiding genius of her well-ordered 
home, commanding and being obeyed," never 
speaking ill of any one, never condescending to 
gossip herself or encouraging gossip in others. 

I have always felt that this Lawrence Washington, 
the only person who knew Mary Washington 
many years intimately, and who wrote his impressions 
of her, was responsible for the universal opinion that 
she was stern and repelling, an opinion that has 
colored all the traditions of all the others who knew 
her as children. I am persuaded that this Lawrence 
did the mischief. Somebody sowed tares in the fair 
field of her reputation. Lawrence, I am sure, was 
the kind of boy known as "a terror," a boy who 
chased chickens, brought hounds and muddy feet 
on the polished floors, trampled flower-beds, rifled 
the fruit trees, overturned pans of milk, upset the 
furniture, and broke the china. Well might he be 
more afraid of Mrs. Washington even than of his own 

174 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

parents (and what more could he say ? ), and we may 
believe he had many a scolding and in his early 

J ^j J 

years an opportunity to test the flavor of the peach 

I am so fully assured that his testimony was the 
beginning of all that Mary Washington has suffered 
at the hands of her countrymen, that I have dili- 
gently looked up his record, hoping to find that he 
came to no good : but alas ! he is mentioned with 
affectionate respect in George Washington's will as 
" the acquaintance and friend of my juvenile years." 
It is some comfort, however, to find he had a wild 
son, Lawrence, who fought a duel, and gave him no 
end of trouble ! 

And as to the traditions ! What are they worth ? 
Has the reader never stood in a line when a story 
whispered from one to the other was told aloud at 
the end, and in no case ever found to be the story 
of the beginning ? Thomas Fuller tells of the name 
" Musard," which became, as it passed down the 
generations from lip to lip " Roper." A popular 
dramatic reader once took for his text the words 
" come here," and showed how accent, gesture, 
and tone could change their meaning from invita- 
tion to menace, from tenderness to fury. 

The stories told of Mary Washington were 
always altered to fit the prevailing opinion of her 
sternness. Let me give an example. " When 
General Washington sent over the country to im- 

A True Portrait of Mary Washington 175 

press horses (and pay for them) his officers were 
attracted by a pair ploughing in a field. The 
driver was ordered to unhitch them, but an ebony 
Mercury ran to warn his mistress who appeared in 
her doorway. 'Madam,' said the officer, 'we bear 
General Washington's orders to take these horses.' 
' Does George need horses ? ' said Mary Washing- 
ton. ' Well, he can have mine, but he must wait 
until my field is finished.' 

Now this is a poor little story, with no point at 
all save to illustrate Mary Washington's estimation 
of the relative importance of the sword and the 
ploughshare. Like all others it is changed as the 
years pass. A short time ago a revised edition 
reached me from the West. 

This is the amended story : " ' What are you 
doing there with my horses ? ' said an irate old 
woman who appeared just then on the field. 
f Leave the place instantly ! ' ' But Madam 
we have orders from the Commander-in-chief! We 
must obey.' ' Well, then, you may just obey me I 
Go back and tell your Commander-in-chief (with 
great scorn and derision) ' that his mother's horses 
are not for sale, and he can't borrow 'em till her 
spring ploughing is done.' It was the part of pru- 
dence to leave. The officers left ! ' : 

The story grew to this proportion in a hundred 
years. Given another hundred, and we will find 
that Mary Washington laid violent hands on the 

176 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

men who claimed the horses, and chastised the 
ploughmen who surrendered them. 

In 1765 two pair of observant eyes opened 
upon the world, and were focussed upon the "awe- 
inspiring' lady, Betty Lewis, little Betty and Dr. 
Charles Mortimer's little Maria. The children 
were playmates, schoolmates, and girl friends from a 
very early age, each intimate at the other's home 
and both intimate at the home of Mary Washing- 
ton. They adored her ! They found naught to 
remember but smiles, gentle words, sweet, motherly 
ways. Betty (afterwards Mrs. Charles Carter) has 
furnished many of the unimportant traditions quoted 
in various accounts of her grandmother's home life. 
They come to us as traditions of traditions, not to 
be despised, yet not to be accepted as history. The 
other pair of eyes were keener for the dress and 
belongings of her venerable friend. To Maria 
Mortimer, daughter of Mary Washington's physi- 
cian, we are indebted for the familiar picture of the 
short skirt and sack, a sort of cote-hardi, the 
mob cap, the table upon which lay " Sir Matthew 
Hale " and his ally, in the presence of which there 
was such small hope for the sinner. Freshly 
gathered from the friendly peach tree, this was used 
as freely this much we willingly concede as 
circumstances demanded. The two children played 
happily at her knee despite the menacing tools ot 
the Inquisition, which we would fain believe were 
never used on them. 

A True Portrait of Mary Washington 177 

To their dying day they talked reverently and 
most abundantly ; for after General Washington 
became so very great there were always listeners. 

Mrs. Charles Carter. 

Had they written conscientiously as the New Jersey 
tutor did instead of talking, we might have known 
more of the reserved, stately woman who bore and 
fostered and taught the revered Father of his 


178 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Country ; but we know too well how sentiments 
can be trimmed and shaped and clothed upon as 
they pass down the generations from lip to lip, to 
venture to give them as gospel facts in clear, 
twentieth-century type. They will surely live 
without the aid of any present or future historian, 
for this is the fortune of trifles ! Great thoughts, 
feelings, aspirations, great unselfish deeds even, 
perish and are forgotten, while trifling words, ges- 
tures, peculiarities in dress or speech, live with no 
apparent reasonableness whatever certainly not 
because of their dignity or merit. They swarm 
around the honored men and women of the world 
like insects around a traveller on a sunny day, 
living of their own accord, too insignificant to chal- 
lenge or brush away, gaining dignity at last from 
their own antiquity. Who cares whether Thomas 
Carlyle liked his chops tender, objected to vermin, 
or abhorred the crowing of a cock ? Yet, I venture 
to say, when his name is called, his image is associ- 
ated oftener with his peculiarities than with the sub- 
lime thoughts with which he sought to elevate and 
inspire the world. 

Mary Washington sustained through a long life a 
lofty character for Christian purity and dignity ; 
trained a son to lead our country through many 
years of danger and privation to the liberty and pros- 
perity which places it to-day in the front of all the 
nations of the earth ; yielded her life at last, in pain 

A True Portrait of Mary Washington 179 

unspeakable, with no murmur upon her pure lips. 
Yet when her name is called, all the ingenuity of 
her countrymen is aroused to accentuate her pecul- 
iarities to treat her with a sort of whimsical 
indulgence, as an unlettered old woman, conspicu- 
ous for eccentricities of temper, of dress, petty 
economies in short, make her ridiculous ! Truly, 
in all ages there are Greeks who weary of hearing 
Aristides called the Just ! 

In the face of all the testimony I have presented 
and will present, the most remarkable statements 
regarding Mary Washington are continually printed 
in the Historical Sketches published by the best 
firms in the country. What can be their authority 
for such statements as these ? 

" The Washingtons were poor hard-working people. 
Mary Washington cooked, weaved, spun, washed and made 
the clothes for her family." 

" Her children had no outer garments to protect them 
from the cold no cloak, boots or hats except in winter ; 
no cloaks then. In severe weather the boys simply put 
on two or three trousers instead of one." 

" Mary Washington quarrelled with her son so that 
when he wished to minister to her comfort in her old age 
he was forced to do so through some third party. These 
things she accepted as her due, showing a grim half-comic 
ingratitude that was very fine." 

"Washington's mother scolded and grumbled to the day 
of her death seeking solace only by smoking a pipe." 

180 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Could this monstrous woman have held an hon- 
ored place in a social circle of stately, courte- 
ous, cultured people ? Why assert such things 
which completely offset an oft-repeated concession 
that " all the sterling, classic virtues of industry, 
frugality and truth-telling were inculcated by this 
excellent mother (!) and her strong common sense 
made its indelible impress upon the mind of her 


She has also suffered much at the hands of her 
own countrywomen ! We must remember she never 
appeared in the full blaze of public scrutiny until 
she was over seventy years old, and then, impov- 
erished by a long war with an entourage the most dis- 
couraging and painful. Women then found her 
parsimonious, ungraceful in dress and manner, sour 
in temper ! Pray what have we, my fastidious sisters, 
done for our country in our day and generation ? 
Compare our privileges and opportunities with hers ! 
The wealth, the light, the leisure of a happy era, are 
ours, and yet not enough can this affluent country 
afford for our adornment, our culture and pleasure. 
We can and do traverse the earth, flitting from 
land to land as the seasons change, becoming ac- 
quainted, if it so please us, with the cloistered wis- 
dom of libraries, the color and beauty of palaces, the 
priceless treasures of art centres, able to enrich our 
minds with all the whole world has to orTer, from 
ancient days to this, and with the possible contact 

A True Portrait of Mary Washington 181 

of brilliant minds at home and abroad. Show me 
the result ! Something, I grant you, is gained in 
personal charm, much, alas ! in accentuating the 
natural heart-break from which the less fortunate 
suffer in witnessing the undeserved contrasts and 
inequalities of life. 

Surely it is not for American women of this day 
sheltered, treasured, adored to complain that 
industry, simplicity in living, ungraceful dress and 
manner, mar the portrait of a noble woman whose 
lot was cast in a narrow and thorny path, whose life 
was necessarily a denied one, and yet who accom- 
plished more for her country than any other woman 
ever did or ever can do ! 

It was her pleasure to live simply- -at a time of 
almost riotous profusion. It was her pleasure to 
busy her own hands with the housewifely work of 
her own household, --knitting, sewing, sorting fleeces 
for " Virginia cloth," preserving fruits, distilling 
herbs for the sick, --" making drudgery divine' 
by sharing the tasks she laid upon others, thereby 
earning her many gifts to the poor. In an age of 
abundant leisure she was industrious ; in an age of 
dissipation of time and money she was self-denying, 
diligent, and frugal ; in an age when speech was 
free and profanity " genteel ' she preserved her 
temperate speech, unpolluted by the faintest taint 
of coarseness or irreverance. When the church no 
longer concerned itself with the care of men's souls, 

1 82 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

she kept her own serene, in her simple faith that 
prayer would prevail in the end, performing every 
outward religious duty as conscientiously as if the 
priests and bishops showed, as well as taught, the 
way. So did she 

" . . . travel on life's common way 
In cheerful Godliness ; and yet her heart 
The lowliest duties on herself did lay." 

This, the result of many years spent in studying 
her character, the writer presents as the true Mary 
Washington, to be honored all the more for her 
retired, her simple life, her homely industries. 

It is proper that her characteristics should be 
summed up before the weakness of extreme old 
age had lessened its activity and usefulness, while 
she was still young enough to catch the enthusiasm 
of her friends and neighbors for fine houses, fine 
coaches, rich dress, and much indulgence in 

She was better able than some of her neighbors 
to indulge in these things, deemed in her day the 
essentials of position. Perhaps she may have heard 
the specious argument urged by some to warrant 
such indulgence, the argument that expenditure 
in luxuries becomes the duty of the rich in order 
to stimulate the industries of the poor. But Mary 
Washington believed in the wholesome influence of 
an example of self-denial, which can only become 















A True Portrait of Mary Washington 183 

of any worth when practised by choice and not by 
necessity. And yet she lived long before Stuart 
Mill and other political economists had demon- 
strated that money spent in rich garments, jewels, 
and luxury in living adds nothing of permanent 
value to the world. 

She never left the plain, four-roomed, dormer- 
windowed dwelling at " Pine Grove," until for her 
greater protection she moved into Fredericksburg, 
choosing a home still plainer and less spacious than 
the house on her farm. Says Mr. Custis, who saw 
her in this home : " Her great industry, with the 
well-regulated economy of all her concerns, enabled 
her to dispense considerable charities to the poor, 
although her own circumstances were always far 
from rich. All manner of domestic economies met 
her zealous attentions ; while everything about her 
household bore marks of her care and management, 
and very many things the impress of her own hands. 
In a very humble dwelling thus lived this mother 
of the first of men, preserving, unchanged, her 
peculiar nobleness and independence of character." 

This most valuable testimony as to Mary Wash- 
ington's character, appearance, and manner is con- 
tained in the first chapter of " The Recollections 
and Private Memoirs of Washington," by George 
Washington Parke Custis, son of " Jack ' Custis, 
who was the only son of Mrs. George Washington. 
"Jack" Custis died young (he was married at nine- 

184 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

teen), and his son, named for General Washington, 
with his sister, Nelly Custis, were adopted into the 
Mount Vernon family. Although this son was too 
young to have fully appreciated Mary Washington, 
his testimony comes directly from her own sons and 
daughter and others who knew her intimately. 
Through them he studied her, and by no one of 
them was he contradicted. His statements are con- 
clusive not to be challenged. They need no 
additional force from the tradition that between 
the Custis family and Madam Washington " there 
was never perfect accord' one of the meaningless 
traditions originating in the busy brain of some gos- 
sip, for which there was no foundation in truth. 
Although several extracts have already been given 
from Mr. Custis's book, the fact that the book 
itself is now out of print, and to be found only 
in the Congressional Library at Washington, and 
possibly in some of the older libraries of the coun- 
try, will perhaps excuse me for having quoted so 
freely the chapter relating to Mary Washington. 
It was written only thirty-seven years after her 
death, and from it has been drawn the relations 
given by Sparks, Lossing, and others. 

"The mother of George Washington," says Mr. 
Custis, " the hero of the American Revolutionary 
War, and the first President of the United States, 
claims the noblest distinction a woman should covet 
or can gain, that of training a gifted son in the 

A True Portrait of Mary Washington 185 

way he should go, and inspiring him by her example 
to make the way of goodness his path to glory." 

But the noblest tribute to this great woman was 
Washington's own. " All that I am," said he, " I 
owe to my mother." All that we are as a nation 
we owe to him. His debt is ours. It is many 
times multiplied. It is ever growing as the ever 
growing Republic illustrates in its virtues and in its 
faults alike the merit of his example and the wisdom 
of her teachings. We but degrade ourselves when 
we refuse to recognize this debt. Let us rather 
discharge it as best we may, in " coin of the highest 
value the pure gold of devotion and gratitude." 



VIRGINIA, between the years 1760 and 
1775, attained her highest prosperity. The 
growth of the colony in general, and the 
advance of luxury in living was rapid, marked by an 
increased taste for amusements of the most costly 
kind, and great expenditure in living and entertaining. 
It was high noon in the Golden Age ! Life was 
far more elegant and luxurious than it was even 
fifteen years before. The transplanted Englishman 
had rapidly prospered in the new land. Great 
wealth had suddenly come to him through his 
tobacco, and he made haste to use and enjoy it. 
The four-roomed house - - quite good enough for 
his cavalier grandfather - - had stepped aside to give 
place to a pillared, porticoed, stately mansion. The 
dormer windows - - like heavy-lidded eyes had 
been superseded by " five hundred and forty-nine 
lights " for one dwelling. The planter often built 
on the site of his old colonial residence, sometimes 
incorporating the old into the new. An eminence, 
commanding a wide view of the surrounding coun- 
try, was a coveted spot in plantation times. It be- 


Noon in the Golden Age 187 

hooved the settler (for reasons similar to those 
which influenced Captain John Smith) to build his 
house " on a high hill neere a convenient river, hard 
to be assalted and easie to be defended." When 
the perilous days of Indian massacre and treachery 
had passed away, and the country had entered upon 
its Saturnian age of peace and plenty, the Virginians 
clung to the old historic building-sites, and upon 
them erected ambitious mansions, with flagged 
colonnades, extended wings, and ample offices ; sur- 
mounting the whole with an observatory whence 
the proprietor with his " spy-glass " could sweep 
the country not now for the stealthy approach 
of an enemy, but to feast his eyes upon a scene 
of unbroken beauty peacefully lying beneath a sum- 
mer's sun. The mansion stood apart in solemn 
grandeur upon some knoll or eminence overlooking 
the great highway, the river. It was not to be 
taken casually, in a by-the-way sort of a manner, 
not to be stumbled upon by accident. It was to 
be approached with deliberation through a long line 
of sentinels an avenue of Lombardy poplars 
" the proper tree, let them say what they will, to 
surround a gentleman's mansion." 

This landward approach to the house passed 
sometimes between columns of trimmed boxwood 
or stone gate-posts upon which the arms granted 
the family in England were carved in high relief. 
Gravelled paths under ornamental trees led to the 

1 88 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

veranda with its lofty columns. In the rear, the 
hill sometimes fell sharply to the riverside in 
terraces, after the English fashion. At a wharf, 
built out into the bed of the stream, the family 
often assembled to watch the sailing of their own 
ships, trading directly with the mother country. 


-^vv^ r ,- -* e* - i ' -* 1 eH-7-' 'ift*?'T, 

'^l- '>-- 

Monticello. The Home of Thomas Jeffe-son. 

On the green, facing the river, there were summer- 
houses of latticed woodwork, covered with climb- 
ing roses, honeysuckle, and jasmine, and haunted 
by brilliant humming-birds. Other cool retreats 
from the ardor of the summer sun were made of 
resinous cedars planted in a close circle, their tops 
tied together and their walls shaven smoothly until 











Noon in the Golden Age 

they resembled little mosques of vivid green. A 
low wall covered with honeysuckle or Virginia 
creeper bounded the grounds at the water's edge. 

But it was in the garden and in the greenhouse 
that the lady of the manor exulted ! No simple 
flowers, such as violets, lilies, or roses were forced 
in those days. These would come with the melting 
of the snows early in February. Only tropical 
beauties were reared under the glass : century-plant, 
cacti, gardenias, lemon and orange trees ; great, 
double, glowing pomegranates, and the much-prized 
snowy globes of Camellia Japonica, sure to be sent 
packed in cotton as gifts to adorn the dusky tresses 
of some Virginia beauty, or clasp the folds of her 
diaphanous kerchief. These camellias were reckoned 
the most elegant of flowers so pure and sensitive, 
resenting the profanation of the slightest touch. 
Fancy a cavalier of that day presenting nothing 
rarer than a bouquet of daisies or daffodils ! 

But the garden ! Who can describe a garden in 
the Virginia of 1770? When the little children of 
the family were sent forth to breathe the cool air 
of the morning, what a paradise of sweets met their 
senses ! The squares, crescents, stars, and circles, 
edged with box, over which an enchanted, glistening 
veil had been thrown during the night ; the tall 
lilacs, snowballs, myrtles, and syringas, guarding 
like sentinels the entrance to every avenue ; the 
glowing beds of tulips, pinks, purple iris, and hya- 

190 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

cinths; the flowering-almond with its rosy spikes; 
the globes of golden passion-fruit; the figs, rimy 
with the early dew and bursting with scarlet sweet- 
ness ! The whole world filled with bloom and 
beauty, fragrance and melody. 

At a respectful distance from the mansion were 
smaller houses of brick or stone, far enough removed 
from " the great house " to secure the master's quiet 
and privacy. In one, a five-roomed building served 
for schoolhouse and lodging-rooms for the tutor and 
boys of the family. Another was " the office " for 
the transaction of business with agents from the 
other plantations of the master, or with captains 
of trading vessels lying at his wharf, laden with out- 
going tobacco, or unloading the liquors, books, musi- 
cal instruments, and fine stuffs for the family. In the 
rear, hidden by maple or cherry trees, were many 
houses : wash-house, dairy, bake-house, storehouses, 
and a kitchen as large as the five-roomed school- 
house, for the sole use of the great High Priest 
the cook and her family. "All these formed a 
handsome street," adds Mr. Fithian (the New Jersey 
Presbyterian tutor, whom nothing escaped), and all 
were surrounded with little gardens and poultry- 
yards, and enlivened with swarms of chickens, 
ducks, pigs, and little negroes. Remote from these 
were the great stables, well filled and admirably 

The kitchens of these later mansions were always 

Noon in the Golden Age 191 

a long distance away, because that source of comfort, 
the black cook, had so many satellites revolving 
around her and drawing sustenance, light, and warmth 
from her centre, that it was absolutely necessary to 
give her elbow-room. The satellites, however, had 
their uses. At dinner-time, each one with shining 
face, robed in a great apron to supplement various 
trouser deficiencies, and bearing covered dishes, 
formed a solemn procession back and forth to the 
dining room. There the frosty eye of the gray- 
haired butler awed them into perfect decorum ; 
and in the kitchen the vigorous arm of the cook 
kept them well within bounds, along with the 
hounds, and, like them, devouring with hopeful 
eyes the delicious viands in course of preparation. 
The planter felt that the time had come to con- 
cern himself with the elegancies of fine living. He 
went home to England to select books for his library 
and to have his portrait painted by Sir Joshua Rey- 
nolds ; perhaps bring over his grandfather's por- 
trait by Sir Peter Lely, or, at least, secure a copy of 
Sir Peter's portrait of Charles the First. A precious 
picture now and then found its way to the drawing- 
rooms of the Northern Neck ; and at " Elsing Green," 
a little lower down in King William County, were 
hangings of priceless value a set of Gobelin 
tapestry presented to the owner's ancestor, Gilbert 
Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, by William of Orange. 
" Race horses, drawn masterly and set in elegant 

192 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

frames," adorned the dining-room walls of Colonel 
John Tayloe of Mount Airy, owner of the great 
Yorick, one of the most celebrated horses of the 
day ; and in the same dining room stood the famous 
punch-bowl, since celebrated in verse. The fashion 
of adorning the grounds with marble statues is first 
mentioned in describing Colonel Tayloe's beautitul 
garden, near Mary Washington's girlhood home. 

Elsing Green. 

Libraries in 1770 had been well chosen, and had 
attained respectable proportions. Mr. Robert Car- 
ter of Westmoreland, and other men of wealth, had 
collected law-books, books on divinity relating to 
the Established Church, a large musical library, the 
works of Pope, Locke, Addison, Young, Swift, Dry- 
den, " and other works of mighty men," in the Latin 




Noon in the Golden Age 193 

Mr. Carter had also every musical instrument 
then known : " An Organ, Spinet, Forte- Piano, 
Guittar, German Flutes, Harpsichord and Har- 
monica. The last, the wonderful new instrument 
invented by one Benjamin Franklin of Philadel- 
phia " (him of the Blackbeard Ballad), "being musi- 
cal glasses without water, framed into a complete 
instrument capable of thorough bass and never out 
of tune." On these the master, his sons, and 
daughters, and the Presbyterian tutor discoursed 
learned music, sonatas, etc. 

Reading of this age, one is amazed at the activity 
of these Virginians of the Northern Neck. They 
were forever in motion, passing up and down the 
Potomac and Rappahannock the great canals of 
their Venice in barges and batteaux, and across 
country from one river to the other on horseback, in 
chaises and chariots. 

The Potomac was the theatre of much rivalry and 
ostentation among the rich planters whose estates 
bordered the river. Superb barges were made to 
their order in England ; and the negro crew rowing 
them were clad in showy uniforms. Occasionally 
a British frigate would appear on the river, when all 
the country would be thrown into a "paroxysm of 
festivity." Breakfasts and dinners at Mount Vernon 
and " Belvoir " (the seat of the Fairfaxes) would be 
in order, with the return courtesies of afternoon teas 
on board the frigate. 

194 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

The river was always in order, but the highway on 
land was about the last thing to which the Virginian 
turned his attention. He accepted it as it was. If 
a section became impassable to the family chariot, 
drawn often by six horses, the outriders simply dis- 
mounted, and with axes cleared a passage around it 
for the vehicle to " turn out.' Hence the necessity 


for these outriders. The family never went abroad 
unattended. At one dinner, described by our Frois- 
sart of the Northern Neck, eight servants accom- 
panied the coach and chaise, namely : coachman, 
driver, two postillions, two servants for the master, 
one each to attend the two gentlemen on horse- 
back the chaise being driven by the master 

There were no bridges across the rivers. Logs 
of wood placed side by side with planks nailed across 
formed a wide, floating bridge which sank several 
inches under the weight of the great coach, the 
horses splashing through the water. When the 
roads lay through level ground, after rains they were 
submerged for miles. Struggling through such a 
watery lane to visit John Augustine Washington, an 
English traveller lost heart, and called out to the 
postillion of the coach sent to fetch him, " Here, you 
fellow ! How far out into the river does your un- 


fortunate master live ? ' Nobody ever thought it 
worth while to drain the roads. When thev ran 


through fields crossed and recrossed by " stake- 

Noon in the Golden Age 195 

fences ' (stakes set at intervals and woven basket- 
fashion with "savin " or juniper boughs) the pauses 
were incessant. Bars had to be let down, gates 
opened and shut. Our Froissart counted thirteen 
gates in fifteen miles. 

" When the roads were too rough for carriages," 
says an old writer who remembered them, " the 
ladies used to ride on ponies, followed by black 
servants on horseback. In this way ladies, even 
when advanced in life, used to travel, clad in the 
scarlet riding-habits procured from England. Nay, 
in this way, on emergencies, the young ladies used 
to come to the balls, riding with their hoops 
arranged ' fore and aft ' like lateen sails, and after 
dancing all night ride home again in the morn- 

A " neighborhood ' included everybody within a 
day's journey, all the way from Westmoreland to 
Mount Vernon. Dinner-parties were going on as 
incessantly then in the Northern Neck as now in 
the metropolis. The nearest neighbors were invited 
to these every few days, while occasionally, in order 
to reach the whole community of several counties, 
balls were given to last five days ! 

Of course, all this close and familiar intercourse 
was an important agent in the wonderful unanimity 
of the entire country when the hour of conflict had 
come. At these balls and dinners something was 
done besides dancing and card-playing- -some hint 

196 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

or word from eloquent lips to keep alive the spark 
soon to burst forth in resistless, all-conquering 
flame. Historians speak of the period as " the lull 
before the storm." It was not by any means a 
" lull " rather a carnival ! 



IF the grave New Jersey Presbyterian tutor 
who has given us so faithful a picture of 
domestic life in the Northern Neck - - saw fit 
to burn his candles at night while he described the 
dresses, dinners, and dances of his day, surely it is 
worth our while to pause in our history to consider 

The planter's daily life began betimes with an 
early breakfast. The planter was an early riser. 
He had retired early. The myrtle-berry candle - 
the costly spermaceti were not brilliant enough 
to tempt late hours. Often before daybreak in the 
winter, when the nights were long, he might be found 
at his secretary arranging the work of the day. Wash- 
ington at Mount Vernon would light his own fire 
and read by candle-light, then breakfast on tea and 
Indian-meal cakes at eight o'clock. But to all rules 
he and his mother were exceptions ! The usual life 
of the planter admitted more luxury. His break- 
fast was a good one ! But first, having risen early, 
he mixed with his own hands the great beaker of 
crushed ice, peach-brandy, and mint to be sent 


198 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

around to all the rooms as an appetizer. Even the 
children were admitted to this morning loving-cup. 
Virginians believed in it ! 

Luckily the breakfast is not left to a twentieth- 
century imagination which would probably sug- 
gest an orange, coffee, and roll. The Rev. Andrew 
Burnaby, Vicar of Greenwich, London, had the 
pleasure of eating a Virginia breakfast in 1759: 
" The ancient custom of eating meat for breakfast 
still continues. At the top of the table where the 
lady of the house presides, there is constantly tea 
and coffee, but the rest of the table is garnished out 
with roasted fowls, ham, venison, game and other 
dainties. There is scarcely a Virginia lady who 
breakfasts without ham ! ' 

Dinner at home or abroad was served not later 
than three, and was preceded by at least one mint 
julep all around. At one home dinner we read of 
four kinds offish, "Sheeps-head, Bass, Perch, Picked 
Crab: Ham, Mutton, vegetables, pudding, fruits, 
cheese, old Madeira," which to be presentable must 
have crossed the ocean more than once. A dinner 
included three courses, soup, then the whole 
dinner placed on the table at once, then dessert. 
Ducks were served at the fish feasts. The deli- 
cious canvasback duck was by no means so highly 
appreciated as it is now. They were left in com- 
parative peace to feed upon the tender wild celery 
of the Potomac marshes. The diamond-backed ter- 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 199 

rapin was much too abundant to be considered a 
dainty. To save the scarcer and costlier pork, ter- 
rapin was fed to the negroes. Laws were enacted 
in Maryland forbidding the slaves' rations to be 
exclusively of terrapin ! 

At one of General Washington's ceremonious 
dinners there was soup, fish roasted and boiled, 
" gammon of bacon " and fowl. The middle of the 
table was decorated with artificial flowers and small 
images. The dessert was a pudding and apple pie, 
ice-cream, jellies, melons, apples, peaches, nuts. 
This dinner was recorded as "a great dinner." To- 
day it would be considered " a good enough dinner, 
to be sure, but not a dinner to ask a man to ! " Some 
of the receipts for these old Virginia dinners have 
been preserved in the Randolph family notably 
the receipts for English plum pudding, and for the 
Christmas mince pie. 

Tables were richly furnished with burnished pew- 
ter and handsome silver. So many articles of silver 
bowls, cups, and salvers were imported from 
England that the thrifty planter was constrained to 
import an engraver as well, in order that his arms 
and crests might be engraved under his personal 
supervision. The china was, of course, English or 
of English importation. We manufactured no china, 
imported none from the East- -probably none from 
France. Mary Washington's china we know was 
blue and white. Knives were of fine Sheffield steel, 

2OO The Mother of Washington and her Times 

and served other uses than cutting. How else did 
the colonial dames eat their peas ? Surely not 
with the little steel fork with two wide-apart prongs. 
This is a painful reflection, but we must remem- 
ber that a good many ladies whom the world has 
admired Helen of Troy, the Mother of the 
Gracchi, all of its earth-born goddesses, in fact, 
until Queen Elizabeth had to content themselves 
at dinner with the utensils God had given them. 
They had no forks at all not even a chop-stick! 
Hence the early need for napkins. 

There was no lack of good napery in Mary 
Washington's time, but the usage of napkins dif- 
fered somewhat from the usage of to-day, at least 
at General Washington's dinners. 

The destruction of cattle by Tarleton's Red Dra- 
goons caused almost a famine of cream and butter, 
immediately after the war, so that " trifle ' : and ice- 
cream were articles of prime luxury. To obtain 
sufficient cream for the dish known variously as 
trifle, syllabub, or floating island, it was some- 
times necessary to save it until it soured or grew 

Mrs. Morris tells of such a misfortune at one of 
Washington's state dinners. She did not hesitate 
to consign her own unswallowed morsel to her nap- 
kin, but records with wicked glee that " poor Lady 
Washington ate a whole plate-full without wincing." 

At dinner much ceremony was observed. " I have 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 201 

fortunately learned by heart all the ceremonies of the 
table, and will make no mistakes," says the tutor ex- 
ultantly, when he finds it necessary to preside in the 
illness of the mistress and absence of the master. 
Toasts were regularly drunk at dinner if there were 
guests but postponed to the evening bowl of 
" toddy ' or punch when the family was alone. 
No day passed without these toasts. " To the 
King and Queen, the Governor of Virginia and 
his Lady, and success to American Trade and 
Commerce." After these each person was called 
upon by the master for his toast. " I gave the 
Lovely Laura," says our tutor Laura being the 
name in Cupid's court for Miss Betty Beatty. 

One might trace the changes in political feeling 
by these toasts. At first, after the royal family 
and success to Virginia commerce, only the respec- 
tive favorites among the ladies. Presently we ob- 
serve that "The Sons of Liberty" have crept into 
the company to demand a toast. Then an ominous 
toast follows the king and all the rest, " Wisdom and 
Unity to the Conference now assembled." Then 
the royal family, governor, and his lady are dropped 
altogether, and the toast, praying for " Wisdom and 
Unity," takes their places. The Prince de Broglie 
records the toasts at General Washington's table, 
" The United States of America, the King of France, 
the Queen " ; " Success with our Enemies and the 
Ladies " ; " Success in War and Love." After these, 

2O2 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

the Marquis de Lafayette and the military heroes of 
the war. General Washington, when President, 
discontinued this custom, contenting himself with 
grave bows, and "Your Health, Sir; your Health, 
Madam," all around the table, until every one was 
thus honored. 

One can hardly repress a shudder at the accounts 
given by Robert Maclay and others of the deadly dul- 
ness and formality of General Washington's state din- 
ners. He kept up this formal coldness to the end. 
Free and easy manners came in with Mr. Jefferson 
and long trousers. Fancy this incident occurring 
at General Washington's table : " Here's to thy 
Absent Broad-brim Friend Hollingworth," from 
Dolly Madison. " Here's to thy Absent Kerchief, 
Friend Dorothy," from the Quaker. 

At informal dinners among neighbors the com- 
pany "sat until sunset," then coffee, and at nine 
o'clock supper, artichokes, crabs, oysters, straw- 
berries and cream, the punch-bowl again. Record 
is made of " Sudden Pains and Sickness at the 
Stomach at night." 

The dancing class was held in succession at all 
the mansions along the Potomac as far as Mount 
Vernon. Mr. Christian stern but elegant - 
taught minuets and country-dances, first politely 
requesting each guest "to step a minuet." He 
does not hesitate to rap two young misses across 
the shoulder for a fault, and to inform " one young 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 203 

Fellow " that he has observed him " through the 
course of the Dance," to be "insolent and wanton," 
and shall require him to alter his manner or leave 
the school. Then, when candles are lighted, hav- 
ing danced all day, Mr. Christian winds up with 
another minuet and country-dance, and at seven is 
glad to retire. But fun holds awhile longer. They 
all " play Button to get Pauns for Redemption, and 
carry it on with sprightliness and Decency." The 
tutor is in luck. "In the course of redeeming my 
Pauns I had several Kisses of the Ladies." Then 
Colonel Philip Ludwell Lee arrives in a travelling 
chariot from Williamsburg. " Four candles on the 
table make the room luminous and Splendid." There 
is a fine supper with four instructed waiters. After 
supper all gather around the fire and " play ' break 
the Pope's neck ' until ten o'clock, and then to 

" Almost every lady wears a red cloak," ] says our 
tutor ; " and when they ride out they tye a red hand- 
kerchief over their Head and face, so that when I first 
came to Virginia I was distressed whenever I saw a 
Lady, for I thought she had a Tooth-Ach." At a five- 
days' ball at Squire Lee's " the Ladies were dressed 
Gay and splendid, and when Dancing their Skirts and 
Brocades rustled and trailed behind them. For five 
days and nights they Danced minuets, reels, marches : 
Giggs (an exaggerated dance resembling the Trescone 

1 "Journal of Philip Vickens Fithian," edited by John Rogers Williams. 

204 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

of Italy) and, last of all, Country Dances to the Music 
of a French Horn and two Violins, for," says the as- 
tonished tutor, " Blow high, Blow Low, the Virgin- 
ians are genuine blood- -they will Dance or die ! ' 

The plantation fiddler belonging, as did the bar- 
ber, shoemaker, and carpenter, to each establish- 
ment, seems to have sufficed for Mr. Christian's 
class. At this the gentlemen were u drest in black, 
superfine broadcloth, laced Ruffles, Black silk Stock- 
ings, buckles at knee and instep. They wore powder 
on their Hair, or the short Wig now in fashion." 

The ladies, well, the principal ladies, must each 
sit for her own portrait. 

First, Mary Washington's granddaughter, " Miss 
Jenny Washington, 1 about seventeen, not a hand- 
some face, but neat in her Dress, well-proportioned, 
and has an easy, winning Behaviour. She is not for- 
ward to begin a conversation, yet when spoken to 
is extremely affable without assuming any girlhood 
affectation or pretending to be overcharged with 
Wit. She moves with propriety when she dances a 
Minuet, and without any Flirts or vulgar Capers 
when She dances a Reel or Country-Dance. She 
plays well on Harpsichord and Spinet, understands 
the principles of Musick and therefore performs 
her Tunes in perfect time a neglect of which al- 
ways makes music intolerable, but it is a fault almost 
universal in young Ladies. She sings likewise to 

1 Fithian's "Journal." 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 205 

her instrument, has a strong, full voice and a well- 
judging Ear. Most of the Virginia Girls think it 
labour quite sufficient to thump the Keys of a Harp- 
sichord," etc. " Her Dress is rich and well-chosen, 
but not tawdry, nor yet too plain. She appears to- 
day " (at the dancing class in the morning) "in a 
chintz cotton gown with an elegant blue Stamp, a 
sky-blue silk Quilt " (petticoat over which the gown 
opens), "a spotted apron. Her Hair is a light 
Brown, it was craped up high with two Rolls at 
each Side, and on the top a small cap of beautiful 
Gauze and rich lace, with an artificial flower inter- 


Very satisfactory indeed for Mary Washington's 
granddaughter, sister of Bushrod Washington, after- 
wards judge of the Supreme Court. 

Next, Miss Betsy Lee : " She is a well-set maid 
of a proper Height, neither high nor low. Her 
Aspect when she is sitting is masculine and Daunt- 
less : she sits very erect ; places her feet with great 
propriety, her Hands she lays carelessly in her lap 
and never moves them but when she has occasion to 
adjust some article of her dress, or to perform some 
exercise of her Fan. Her Eyes are exactly such as 
Homer attributes to the Goddess Minerva and her 
arms resemble those which the same Poet allows 
to Juno. Her Hair which was a dark Brown was 
craped up very high and in it she had a Ribbon 
interwoven with an artificial Flower. At each of 

206 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

her ears dangled a brilliant jewel. She was pinched 
up rather too near in a long pair of new-fashioned 
Stays, which I think are a nuisance both to us and 
themselves For the late importation of Stays, said 
to be now most fashionable in London, are produced 


Bushrod Washington. 

upwards so high that we can have scarce any view 
at all of the Ladies' Snowy Bosoms ; and on the 
contrary they are extended downwards so low that 
Walking must, I think, cause a disagreeable friction 
of some parts of the Body. I imputed the Flush 
which was visible in her Face to her being swathed 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 207 

up Body and Soul and Limbs together. She wore a 
light chintz gown with a blue stamp elegantly made 
which set well upon her. She wore a blue Silk 
Quilt. Her dress was rich and fashionable and her 
behaviour was such as I should expect to find in a 
Lady whose education had been constructed with 
some care and skill." 

So much for Miss Lee. Now for the country 
beauty, Miss Aphia Fauntleroy (afterwards married 
to Captain John Champe Carter of the Revolution). 

" Is the best dancer of thewhole absolutely ! And 
the finest Girl ! Her head powdered as white as 
snow and craped in the newest taste. She is the 
copy of the Goddess of Modesty very handsome. 
She seemed to be loved by all her Acquaintances 
and Admired by every Stranger." 

"Miss Priscilla Carter is 16 small of her 
age, has a mild winning Presence, a sweet obliging 
Temper, never swears which is here a distinguished 
virtue, dances finely, plays well on key'd Instru- 
ments, is never without what seems to have been a 
common Gift of Heaven to the fair Sex, the Copia 
Verborum, or readiness of Expression." (This 
sweet-tempered fifteen-year-older, a pupil of the 
Presbyterian tutor, was a young lady of spirit.) 
" Miss Prissy is much offended ! She retains her 
anger and seems peculiarly resentful, refusing to 
walk over to the school. Indeed she is much 
affronted. Monday afternoon by chance I tapp'd 

208 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

her on the Head and wholly in Jest." Five days 
later the Diary records, " At last Prissy is recon- 
ciled," having punished him sufficiently. 

Next, Miss Hale, fourteen years old. " She is 
dressed in a white Holland gown, quilt very fine, 
a Lawn Apron, has her hair craped high, and upon 
it a Tuft of Ribbon for a cap. Once I saw her 
standing. I rose immediately and begged her to 
accept my Chair. She answered most kindly, ' Sir, 
I thank you,' and that was all I could extract from 
this Wonder of her Sex for the two days of the 
dance, and yet I seemed to have an equal Share 
in the Favours of her Conversation." 

Miss Sally Panton, lately come from England to 
teach Mr. Turberville's daughters French and Eng- 
lish, creates a sensation because she is supposed to 
have brought with her the latest London fashions. 
" Her stays are huge, giving her an enormous long 
Waist. These stays are suited to come up to the 
upper part of her shoulders, almost to her chin ; and 
are swaithed round her as low as they can possibly 
be, allowing her no liberty to walk at all. To be 
sure this is a vastly Modest Dress ! ' The stays are 
all right, but " her Head-Dress not to the liking 
of the Virginia Ladies " being arranged low on the 
neck, of which they can, on no account approve. 
" Nevertheless," quoth the tutor, " if her Principles 
of Religion and her Moral Manner be unexception- 
able / shall think her Agreeable." 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 209 

The last picture thrown on the canvas must be 
another Miss Lee. "A tall, slim, genteel Girl 
thirteen years old. She is free from the taciturnity 
of Miss Hale, yet by no means disagreeably for- 
ward. She dances extremely well, and is just begin- 
ning to play on the Spinet. She is drest in a neat 
shell Callico Gown, has very light hair done up 
high with a feather, and her whole carriage is easy 
and graceful, and free of formality and Haughtiness, 
the Common foible here." 

For aught we know to the contrary this charming 
young lady was the beauty who roused an anony- 
mous poet to alliterative verse. 

" May mild meridian moonbeams mantle me 
With laughing, lisping Lucy Lightfoot Lee." 

The ingenuous tutor is delightful. Not once 

O O 

does he interpret the freezing manner, the haughti- 
ness and formality of the maidens to any dislike 
of himself. Perhaps it did not exist; his suc- 
cessor, also a Presbyterian tutor, married one of 
them. But not so, I fancy, did these ladies treat 
young Harry Lee "our Light-horse Harry," the 
son of the " Lowland Beauty " when they met him 
at the Squire's ball; and surely not thus would the 
young junior from Princeton College have been 
impressed by them. One peep within the leaves 
of that Diary, a thing impossible to the veriest 
madcap in his school, and all would have been 

2io The Mother of Washington and her Times 

over for the Presbyterian tutor, albeit he and young 
Harry had been college mates. 

Two things were absolutely necessary in the 
etiquette of the minuet,- -the pointed foot must be 
so firm, so straight, that not a crease or wrinkle 
appeared in the quilted petticoat, and, of course, 

this quilt must be of a 
strength and richness : so 
rich, indeed, that it would 
" stand alone," yielding 
not in dance and courtesy. 
Evidently Miss Hale at 
fourteen, and Miss Lee at 
thirteen, were already in 
society. In a few years, 
doubtless, they were all 
married to Revolutionary 
officers, two or three, 
sometimes five, of them 
falling in course of time 
to his lot, as was usual in 
that day of short-lived women. As we have seen, 
Catherine Willis afterwards Princess Murat 
married at thirteen. 

The wife of Chief Justice Marshall, Mary 
Ambler, was only fourteen years old when she 
attended the Dunmore ball and captured the 
young Captain Marshall, who gave the only guinea 
he possessed to a clergyman for marrying him soon 

Mary Ambler. 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 211 

Arthur Lee said, "In Virginia a man is old at 
thirty and a woman at twenty." A certain little 

Chief Justice John Marshall. 

Alice Lee, twelve years old, wrote this remarkable 
letter from Stratford in 1772 to a kinsman in 
London. (Doubtless Miss Alice was one of the 
dancers at Squire Lee's ball two years later.) 

212 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" So you threaten me if I prove deficient in the 
deference I owe you as a married man, with the 
power you have of forwarding or retarding my 
success in the Matrimonial Way. 1 This would be 
a tremendous threat indeed were I as fond of Mat- 
rimony as my young Mistress, as you call her, but 
happily I am little more than twelve years old and 
not so eager to tye a Knot which Death alone can 
Dissolve. And yet I pretend not to ridicule the 
holy sacred institution, but have all due reverence 
for that and the worthy people who have entered 
into the Society, from good and generous motives. 
It is only those who chuse to be married at all 
events that I think deserve raillery. ... I never 
saw Westmoreland so dull. I was at Squire Lee's 
when your letter came. He is the veriest Tramon- 
tane in nature ; if ever he gets married, if his wife 
civilizes him, she deserves to be canonized. 

" So you can't forbear a fling at femalities ; 
believe me Curiosity is as imputable to the Sons as 
the Daughters of Eve. Think you there was ever 
a Lady more curious than our Cousin the Squire ? 
He himself is the greatest of all curiosities, but 
hang him, how came he to pop twice in my head 
while I was writing to you ! 

" The Annapolis Races Commence the 6th of 
October. The American Compy of Players are 
there and said to be amazingly improved. I 

l "Lee of Virginia," Edited by Dr. Edward Jennings Lee. 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 213 

should like to see them, as I think Theatrical 
Entertainments a rational amusement." 

Clever little Mistress Alice ! Twelve years old, 
and already flirting with the sixty-year-old Squire 
Richard Lee Burgess from Westmoreland, member 
of the Continental Congress, giver of five-day balls; 
who yet found time to gather rosebuds, for he 
actually married sixteen-year-old Sally Poythress 
after he was sixty-two years old. 

It is a great misfortune to us that our observant 
tutor was not invited to Mount Vernon. Mr. 
Christian's class met at Mount Vernon, also at 
" Gunston Hall' the fine residence of the George 
Mason who wrote the famous Declaration of Rights 
in 1776. Mrs. Martha Washington's lovely 
daughter, Martha Custis, was then just thirteen 
years old, and there is no doubt, not the least, that 
she wore a blue silk quilt and had her hair 
" craped " (crepe] high and interwoven with a 
feather. On the i8th of April, 1770, Washington 
records, " Patsy Custis and Milly Posey went to 
Col. Mason's to the Dancing School." 

The discipline of children was stern. Their 
duties included the courtesies of life as religiously 
as its business. " I have no Stockings and I swear 
I won't go to the Dancing School," says fifteen-year- 
old Bob, who is at the awkward age and dreads 
society. " ' Are Bob and Nancy gone to Mr. 
Turberville's ? ' said the Colonel at Breakfast 

214 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

' Nancy is gone, Sir, Bob stays at Home, he has no 
shoes ! ' f Poh- -what nonsense,' says the Colonel. 
He sends the clerk to the Plantation Store for a 
pair of Shoes. Bob he takes to his Study and floggs 
severely for not having given seasonable notice, and 
sends him instantly to the Dance" in a suitable and 
proper frame of mind to enjoy himself! 

Balls, fish feasts, christenings, cock-fights, horse- 
races and church-going filled the time as well as 
visiting and dancing. Everybody went to church 
through all weathers. In winter the churches 
were bitterly cold. No provision of any kind for 
heating them was ever dreamed of. The church 
was one of the rallying places for the neighbor- 
hood. "There are," says the tutor, " three grand 
divisions of time at the church on Sundays ; Viz : 
before Service giving and receiving letters of busi- 
ness, reading Advertisements " (affixed to the church- 
doors) " consulting about the price of Tobacco, 
Grain, &c, and settling either the lineage, Age or 
qualities of favourite Horses. 2. In the church at 
Service, prayers read over in haste, a Sermon, seldom 
under and never over twenty minutes, but always 
made up of sound morality, or deep-studied Meta- 
physicks. 3. After Service is over, three quarters 
of an hour spent in strolling round the church 
among the crowd in which time invitations are 
given by gentlemen to go home with them to 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 215 

The christenings were seasons of large family 
gatherings the silver christening bowl, like the 
punch-bowl, descending from generation to gen- 

There were no "poor whites" the helpless, 
hopeless, anaemic race now numerous in Virginia. 
There were well-instructed men and women in the 
industrial classes who filled situations as visiting 
shoemakers, weavers, or housekeepers. The Vir- 
ginia woman in " The Golden Age ' had need of 
all the help she could get. She married while yet 
a child often less than fifteen years old. Her 
housekeeper was her tower of strength. She 
helped generally throughout the family, nursing 
the sick, caring for the children's comfort, and 
standing sponsor for them in baptism. 1 A letter 
from one of these humble retainers, a housekeeper 
at Stratford, somewhere about 1774, has been pre- 
served by which we perceive she represented the 
wife of Governor Fauquier at a christening. 

(Dated) " STRATFORD, September 27. 

"To Miss MARTHA CORBIN - - Dear Miss. I gladly 
embrace this oppertunity of writing to you to put you in 
mind there is such a being as mySelfe. I did not think 
you two would have slited me so. Your little cosen 
matilda was made a cristan the 25th of September. The 
godmothers was mrs Washington miss becy Tayloe Miss 
Nancy Lawson Stod proxse for Miss Nelly Lee and I for 

1 " Lee of Virginia." 

2i 6 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Mrs Fauquer, godfathers was col. Taloe Mr Robert Carter 
mrs Washington Col Frank Lee, the Esq : mr Washington 
and your ant Lee Dessers there Love to you I am your 
very humble servant Elizabeth Jackson." 

It is easy to understand why Miss Jackson 
should have dignified all the Lees who employed 
her with large capitals, but why she should thus have 
honored Miss Nancy Lawson above " mrs. washing- 
ton ' we shall never know in this world, only, as 
everybody knows, no married lady even Mrs. 
John Augustine Washington, our Mary's daughter- 
in-law could possibly be as important as that most 
worshipped of all creatures, a Virginia young lady. 

As to the race-horses, we cannot begin to reckon 
their increased importance. Janus and Yorick are 
among the immortals ! So also should be General 
Washington's horses, Ajax, Blueskin, Valiant, and 
the royal Arabian Magnolia. Nor should Silver- 
eye be forgotten, nor the lordly Shakespeare, for 
whose service a groom was appropriated to sleep 
near him at night in a specially built recess, that his 
Lordship's faintest neigh might find response. 

The men who settled the Northern Neck of Vir- 
ginia were cavaliers from " Merry England," with 
an inherited love of horse-racing, and, indeed, all 
sporting. There was not a Roundhead among 
them ! They liked cards and dancing. Nobody 
could make them believe that the devil hunted 
with the hounds and ran with the race-horses. 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 217 

The early Virginia historians wrote at length 
about the pedigrees and qualities of horses and the 
skill of their riders. The old court records have 
many quaint entries of disputes about " faire starts," 
and citizens' depositions were taken to settle them; 
for instance, "Richard Blande, aged 21 yeares 
Deposeth that in the Race run between John 
Brodnax and Capt. William Soane now in tryall, 
the horse belonging to Henry Randolph on w'ch 
Capt. Soane layed, came after the Start first between 
the Poles agreed on for their comeing in," etc. 
William Randolph's task was more difficult. He 
" Deposeth in ye race between Wm. Epes and 
Mr. Stephen Cocke," that the latter " endeavoured 
to gett the other's path, but he did not gett it at 
two or three jumps nor many more, upon w'ch he 
josselled on Mr. Epes' path all most part of ye 

People took all these things very seriously, and 
they formed the subjects of conversation until the 
time came for horse and rider to distinguish them- 
selves in a sterner field. 

The horses bred in Virginia were small, fleet, and 
enduring, varying little from the early English ra- 
cers, the immediate descendants of the Arabian 
horses. There was a fine race-course at Fredericks- 
burg, and Mary Washington's relatives and friends 
appear in the contests her sister-in-law's husband, 
Roger Gregory, always among the foremost. He 

2i 8 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

ran a famous mare, Dimple; Mr. Spotswood, Fear- 
naught, - - a name reasonably to be expected from 
John Spotswood's horse. Then there were Fashion, 
Eclipse, Selima, Ariel, Why Not? (why, indeed ?), 
and many more. Purses from ten to two hundred 
guineas or pounds were the prizes ; also " Saddles, 
Bridles, Cups and Soop Ladles." 

Lewis Willis, General Washington's first cousin, 
worked his farm principally with blooded plough- 
horses. The dams of Maid of the Oaks and Betsy 
Blue were plough-horses. Maid of the Oaks the 
most splendid creature ever seen sold for ^1 5,000 
to pay, alas ! a security debt. For this astonishing 
statement I have as authority Lewis Willis's son, 
Byrd Willis, father of the Princess Murat and 
brother of the Jack Willis so loved by everybody 
and by none more than General Washington him- 
self. These were splendid, jovial fellows, full of 
anecdote and inexhaustible humor. Colonel Byrd 
Willis left a diary of the good times of his day. 

But, alas for all the good times, the little cloud 
no bigger than a man's hand in 1766 was now 
darkening the Northern sky. The Gazette, that 
had chronicled so many merry days, gave its col- 
umns to a warning note (July 21, 1774) from "a 
Virginian," recommending that Fredericksburg sus- 
pend its races and contribute purses to the people 
of Boston ; and, indeed, there was no more record 
of a race before the Revolution. 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 219 

The Presbyterian tutor, from whom we must now 
part, was a candidate for the ministry, but saw much 
to admire and little to condemn in the social life of 
the Virginians. He had been warned " that Vir- 
ginia is sickly that the people there are profane, 
and exceeding wicked. That there I shall read no 
Calvinistic Books, nor hear any Presbyterian Ser- 
mons." He finds himself under no more nor 
stronger temptations to any kind of vice perhaps 
not so great as at home, "unless sometimes 
when I am solicited to dance I am forced to 
blush' not because of its wickedness Oh, no! 
but " because of my Inability ! I Wish it had 
been a part of my Education to learn an innocent 
and ornamental qualification for a person to appear 
even decent in Company ! ' 

This impartial observer of the times in which 
Mary Washington lived sums up the Virginians 
thus : " The people are extremely hospitable and 
Polite universal characteristics of a gentleman in 
Virginia. Some swear bitterly, but the practice 
seems to be generally disapproved. I have heard 
that this Country is notorious for Gaming, how- 
ever this may be I have not seen a Pack of Cards, 
nor a Die since I left home, nor gaming nor Betting 
of any kind except at the Races. The Northern 
Neck is a most delightful country the best people 
are remarkable for regularity and economy, civil 
and polite and of the highest quality in Virginia 

220 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

well acquainted with the formality and ceremony 
which we find commonly in High Life sensible, 
judicious, much given to retirement and study," 
etc., at length, of which the above extract is a fair 

Another tutor, one John Davis, presumably a 
Welshman, who spent, and wrote of, " Four and 
a Half Years in America," described the Virginians 
of George Washington's time and neighborhood 
and the church he attended : 

" No people could exceed these men in polite- 
ness. On the piazza of Mr. Thornton's tavern I 
found a party of gentlemen from the neighboring 
plantations carousing over a bowl of toddy and 
smoking cigars. On my ascending the steps to the 
piazza, every countenance seemed to say, f This man 
has a double claim to our attention, for he is a 
stranger in the place.' In a moment room was 
made for me to sit down ; a new bowl was called 
for, and every one who addressed me did it with a 
smile of conciliation. But no man questioned me 
whence I had come, or whither I was going. A 
gentleman in every country is the same and if 
good breeding consists in sentiment, it was found in 
the circle I had got into. 

" The higher Virginians seem to venerate them- 
selves as men ! I am persuaded there was not one 
in that company who would have felt embarrassed 
at being admitted to the presence and conversation 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 221 

of the greatest monarch on earth. There is a com- 
pound of virtue and vice in every human character. 
No man was ever faultless; but whatever may be ad- 
vanced against Virginians, their good qualities will ever 
outweigh their defects ; and when the effervescence 
of youth has abated, when reason reasserts her empire, 
there is no man on earth who discovers more exalted 
sentiments, more contempt of baseness, more love 
of justice, more sensibility of feeling, than a Vir- 
ginian. ... I found at the taverns every luxury 
that money can purchase ; the richest viands cov- 
ered the table, and ice cooled the Madeira that had 
been thrice across the ocean. About eight miles 
away was Powheek (Pohick) church -- a name it 
claims from a run that flows near its walls. Hither 
I rode on Sundays and joined the congregation of 
Parson Weems" [our friend of the hatchet and cherry 
tree !] "a minister of the Episcopal persuasion, who 
was cheerful in his mien that he might win men to 
religion. A Virginian church-yard on a Sunday, 
resembles rather a race-course than a sepulchral 
ground. The ladies come to it in coaches, and the 
men, after dismounting from their horses, make 
them fast to the trees. The steeples to Virginia 
churches were designed not for utility but orna- 
ment ; for the bell is always suspended to a tree 
a few yards from the church. I was confounded on 
first entering the church-yard at Powheek to hear 
( Steed threaten steed with high and boastful neigh,' 

222 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

nor was I less stunned with the rattling of wheels, 
the cracking of whips, and the vociferations of the 
gentlemen to the negroes who accompanied them. 
One half the congregation was composed of white 
people, the other of negroes, and Parson Weems 
preached the great doctrines of salvation as one who 
had experienced their power." 

The Welsh tutor, Davis, and the American tutor 
and patriot, Fithian, wrote thus of the Virginians 
of Mary Washington's day, as they saw and knew 
them. Their horizon was limited to a few repre- 
sentative families in one or two neighborhoods. 
But a great and good man of the present genera- 
tion- -wise, truthful, candid has thus recorded his 
opinion of the Virginians of that period. Says John 
Fiske : " On the whole it was a noble type of rural 
gentry that the Old Dominion had to show. Manly 
simplicity, love of home and family, breezy activity, 
disinterested public spirit, thorough wholesomeness 
and integrity, - -such were the features of the society 
whose consummate flower was George Washington." 

This section of Virginia could boast a society, 
more exclusive, if possible, than that of the James 
River region. It was free from the mixed and 
motley crowd which infested Williamsburg. Some- 
what remote from the commercial centre, the life was 
that of the landed gentry in England ; quieter, more 
conservative, more leisurely and elegant than the 
society gathered in towns. 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 223 

Thomson Mason of the Northern Neck, provid- 
ing in his will for the education of his sons, adds, 
" but I positively direct that neither of my sons 
shall reside on the South Side of James River until 
the age of twenty-one years, lest they should imbibe 
more exalted notions of their own importance than 
I could wish any child of mine to possess." Already 
there was a protest against a certain lofty manner in 
vogue among the planters. Fashions that had lasted 
long began to change. 

With the passing of the century Virginia's pic- 
turesque Golden Age passed, never to return in the 
history of this country. 

Even while Washington lived and held his stately 
court, powdered, in full court-dress, sword at side, 
and no " hand-shake " for the crowd at his levees, 
even then the Golden Age, the age dominated by 
English influence, had passed. England was no 
longer the authority in manner and dress. The 
people wished none of her customs, traditions, or 
principles. Naturally their hearts had turned to the 
French. The emancipated Englishman cared no 
more for family trees, still less for armorial bear- 
ings. When Bishop Meade travelled through Vir- 
ginia to cull material for his history of the old 
families, he found them reluctant to acknowledge 
the possession of a coat of arms or to confess a 
descent from English nobility. " They seemed 
ashamed of it. Everybody became a ' Democrat,' 

224 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

a l patriot,' and in the abstract at least f an advocate 
of the rights of man.' Many families who were 
properly entitled to arms, lost the evidence of it in 
the general neglect which blighted the tree of pedi- 
gree." The manner in which Jefferson, in the 
opening of his autobiography, almost sneers at armo- 
rial bearings reflects the feeling of Virginia for many 
years after the Revolution. 

Judge N. Beverley Tucker prefaces a family history 
with these words, "At this day it is deemed arrogant 
to remember one's ancestors." Nous avons change 
tout cela ! At this day it is suicidal to forget them ! 

In presenting these pictures of social life in Vir- 
ginia in the eighteenth century, I have been careful 
to accept the testimony only of those who were 
actually a part of it. It has become the fashion to 
idealize that old society as something better than our 
own. It had its charm of stateliness, of punctilious 
etiquette, of cordial hospitality ; its faults of pom- 
pous manner, of excess and vanity, differing as 
conditions have changed, only in type and expres- 
sion, from similar blemishes in our own manners 
of to-day ; neither better nor worse, perhaps, as the 
years have passed. In all that is understood by the 
word " society " we find many points of resemblance, 
a family likeness, in fact, to metropolitan society in 
the nineteenth century. 

Has the reader ever sought an intelligent defini- 

^j ^j 

tion of the term " society " ? 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 225 

" Society," says Noah Webster, " is specifically 
the more cultivated portion of any community, in 
its social relations and influence ; those who give 
and receive formal entertainments mutually." This 
sounds reasonable enough, but the literary world of 
to-day, if we may credit some of its shining lights, 
takes exception at the word " cultivated." 

" Society," says Bishop Huntington, in his " Draw- 
ing-room Homily," "is something too formless for 
an institution, too irregular for an organization, too 
vital for a machine, too heartless for a fraternity, too 
lawless for a school. It is a state wherein all realism 
is suppressed as brutal, all natural expression or 
frank sign of true feeling as distasteful and startling. 
Its subjects are more prostrate than the slaves of 
the East before the Padishah ! The individual finds 
everything decided for him. Provided he imitates 
copies, and repeats his models, he knows all that he 
need know, and has entered into salvation." 

Evidently, neither now, nor in the Arcadian days 
of Virginia's Golden Age, has society seen fit to 
adopt the motto inscribed on the palace gates of the 
young Alexander Severus, " Let none enter here 
save the pure in heart." One, than whom none 
knows it better, has declared it to be to-day " a 
garden of flowers where f sweets compacted lie.' 
But underneath the roses lurks a subtle and veno- 
mous serpent whose poison already threatens the fair 
and beloved of the land." 

226 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

These eminent satirists are part of the society 
they condemn. They know it well. And yet we 
would fain find comfort in the summing up of 
another who also knew it well. " Society," says 
Emerson, "is something too good for banning, too 
bad for blessing. In attempting to settle its char- 
acter, we are reminded of a tradition in pagan my- 
thology. ' I overheard Jove,' said Silenus, ( talking 
of destroying the earth. He said he had failed ; 
they were all rogues and vixens going from bad to 
worse. Minerva said she hoped not ; they were 
only ridiculous little creatures with this odd cir- 
cumstance, if you called them bad, they would 
appear so; if good, they would appear good, and 
there was no one person among them which would 
not puzzle her owl much more all Olympus to 
know whether it was fundamentally good or bad.' 

But whether or no society be fundamentally good 
or bad, its doings have been in all ages interesting. 
Max O'Rell declares that the upper ten thousand 
are alike all over the world ; that the million only 
as affording original types are interesting. He 
is wrong. The world cares more for the fortunate 
few than for the ordinary mass of mankind. Why 
do we find in every journal of the day long col- 
umns filled with the comings and goings, the up- 
risings and down-sittings of our wealthy classes ? 
Why do readers never complain of the monotonous 
round of their travels ? People prick up their ears 

Dinners, Dress, Dances, Horse-races 227 

and listen whenever the word " society " is uttered, 
although fully aware that half we read is invented 
to meet the hunger of the multitude for society 

Everybody wants a glimpse of that gallant vessel 
bearing the elect so gayly down the stream of time, 
the stream so full of bitter waters to many. They 
are more interesting, these voyagers in the painted 
pleasure boat, than the poor man who shades his 
eyes with his rough hand to gaze as they pass. 
They are even more interesting than the crowd 
running along to cheer, or swimming in the wake 
for the possible chance of being taken on board. 
There they go! the happy hundreds a "merry 
chanter " at the prow, a merry crew in the rigging ; 
music, song, the flash of jewels, the perfume of 
flowers mingling with everyday sights, and sounds 
of everyday life. 

We may assure ourselves that it is possible to be 
happy on board some other vessel, with a better 
pilot, and bound for a better port, but life is serious 
on that vessel. We like to be amused, and are 
keenly interested in those gayer voyagers. 




IT seems to have been hard for England to take 
her American colonies seriously. " The 
gentlemen of the opposition on the other side 
of the water " were regarded as inferiors, or, at best, 
troublesome children, to be dealt with accordingly, 
and taught to know and keep their places. 

As early as 1766 a " Planter' on the banks of 
the Potomac addressed a letter to " The Merchants 
of London," and printed in the London Public 
Ledger, in which he says : " The epithets of ' parent 
and child ' have been so long applied to Great Brit- 
ain and her colonies that individuals have adopted 
them, and we rarely see anything from your side of 
the water free from the authenticated style of a mas- 
ter to a schoolboy. He seems to say, ' We have, 
with infinite difficulty and fatigue, got you excused 
this time ; pray be a good boy for the future ; do 
what your papa and mamma bid you, and hasten to 
return them your most grateful acknowledgments 
for condescending to let you keep what is your own. 
If you are a naughty boy, and turn obstinate, and 
don't mind what your papa and mamma say to you, 


232 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

and pretend to judge for yourself when you are not 
arrived at years of discretion or capable of distin- 
guishing between good and evil, then everybody 
will hate you; your parents and masters will be 
obliged to whip you severely, and their friends 
will blame them.' See what you have brought 
this child to ! If he had been well scourged at 
first for opposing your absolute will and pleasure 
and daring to think he had any such thing as prop- 
erty of his own, he would not have had the impu- 
dence to repeat the crime." 

The first word of resistance to the enforcement 
of the Stamp Act came from the Northern Neck of 
Virginia. At Leeds, Richard Henry Lee, born 
in the same county and same year with George 
Washington, wrote a set of resolutions which were 
unanimously adopted by one hundred and fifteen 
of the most influential of his neighbors. No Vir- 
ginian could be legally tried but by his peers. No 
Virginian (for were they not all British subjects?) 
could be taxed but by consent of a parliament in 
which he is represented by persons chosen by the 
people. " Any person using the stamp paper was 
an abandoned wretch, lost to virtue and public 
good ! ' They bound themselves to resist and 
punish such persons ; and at the utmost risk of 
lives and fortunes to protect any and every citizen 
who should suffer persecution because of adherence 
to these resolutions. 

The Little Cloud 233 

This was in 1766. The defiant paper was signed 
by Mary Washington's three sons, Samuel, Charles, 
and John Augustine, - -also by Dr. Mortimer, her 
family physician. The Stamp Act was soon re- 
pealed, and the stir and excitement naturally sub- 
sided. Several years later a tax on tea, glass, and 
paper awakened it again. Even then there was no 
apprehension of danger. Nobody dreamed of final 
separation from England. The little cloud had 
been no bigger than a man's hand; it was resting 
on the distant horizon and would give trouble to 

In 1766 the odious Stamp Act was repealed. In 
1767 a new and more oppressive duty was laid on 
glass, paper, and tea. England, in the next year, 
drew back again and repealed this later tax, except- 
ing only the tax on tea, "for," said Lord North, "a 
total repeal cannot be thought of until America lies 
prostrate at our feet." 

Virginia retaliated by her non-importation reso- 
lutions, binding herself to import nothing from 
England until the obnoxious impost should be re- 
pealed. Every known article of luxury in living or 
dress was specified in her proscribed list, except 
oh, wise and prudent burgesses! "women's bon- 
nets and hats, sewing silk and netting silk ! ' 

The resolutions were signed by 170 Virginians, 
including George Washington, Spencer Ball, Sam- 
uel Eskridge, and the Lees, Tayloes, Corbins, 

234 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Carters, and others of Mary Washington's family, 
friends, and neighbors in the Northern Neck. 
The firmest spirit pervaded the assembly. At its 
close, the Gazette goes on to say, " the whole com- 
pany walked in procession from the Capitol to the 
Raleigh Tavern, where loyal and patriotic toasts 
were drunk the King, the Queen and Royal 
family, the Governor of Virginia, the Duke of 
Richmond, Lord Chatham, Lord Camden, Lord 
Shelburne, British Liberty in America." Warming 
up after half a score of glasses, somebody gave, 
" May the Efforts of Virginia, joined with her Sister 
Colonies in the Cause of Liberty, be crowned with 
Success;" and then, warmer still, and jealously fear- 
ful of discourtesy to the government it had just 
defied (for a gentleman must be polite on his own 
soil) this toast was enthusiastically presented and 
applauded, " May the Rose flourish, the Thistle 
grow, and the Harp be tuned to the cause of Ameri- 
can Liberty ! ' 

A fine "schoolboy' this, loving liberty, loving 
fun, too much in love with happiness to bear malice ! 

It was not long before the schoolboy had a fine 
chance for a frolic. Ships laden with tea appeared 
in Boston harbor. A party disguised as American 
Indians boarded the ships and threw the cargo over- 
board. This was more than any indulgent parent 
could be expected to stand. The schoolboy must 
be shut up in a closet, and the key turned on him. 

The Little Cloud 235 

The port of Boston was ordered by Act of Parlia- 
ment to be closed ! 

And now Richard Henry Lee's " Committee of 
Correspondence and Communication with the Sister 
Colonies " came into active service. Of course the 
governor had dissolved the assembly that adopted 
it. He was too late ! From the moment of its 
adoption expresses were flying from Massachusetts 
to Virginia, back and forth, with details of every 
step in the progress of events. William Lee wrote 
from London that " this inter-colonial consultation 
had struck a greater panic in the ministers than all 
that had taken place since the Stamp Act." The 
expresses travelled fast. Not for nothing had the 
Virginians bred fleet horses and trained fearless 
riders ! It was said of those riders that " they 
must almost have flown," so promptly did the 
pulse in Virginia respond to the heart-throb in 

The news from Boston was overwhelming. Not 
only was the port to be closed as punishment the 
thumb-screw drew still closer. Parliament passed an 
"Act whereby the People of Boston shall have no 
power of trying any Soldier or Person for com- 
mitting any crime : all such offenders to be sent 
Home for legal Tryal." 14 Geo. Ill, c. 39. 

The Virginia leaders were not surprised. The 
little cloud, no bigger than a man's hand in 1766, 
had never disappeared altogether. For ten years 

236 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

the storm had been gathering. The sky was now 
overcast, the thunder was heard, the tempest was at 
hand. With a keen realization of all that resistance 
implied, some of them hesitated. Many of them 
were descendants of the royalists who had come 
over after the execution of Charles the First. They 
knew what revolution meant ! The halter and the 
scaffold were still vivid in their traditions. 

When the news came of the Act of Parliament 
closing the port, the House of Burgesses was in 
session. They ordained " a day of solemn fasting, 
humiliation and prayer, devoutly to implore the 
Divine interposition for averting a heavy calamity 
which threatens the civil rights of America." 

Every man, one would think, has a right to 
humble himself, abstain from food, and pray 
God for help in time of trouble. Not so thought 
his Excellency, Governor Dunmore. Summoning 
the Honorable- -the House of Burgesses to his 
Council Chamber, he spoke to them thus : " Mr. 
Speaker and Gentlemen of the House of Burgesses, 
I have in my hand a paper published by order of 
your House conceived in such terms as reflect 
highly upon his Majesty and the Parliament of 
Great Britain, which makes it necessary for me to 
dissolve you, and you are dissolved accordingly.' 

So, then, the guardians of the colony were to be 
sent home to do their fasting and praying in private, 
and perchance repent or hold their tongues, at least. 

The Little Cloud 

But just here the unexpected happened. While 
the Virginians were growing more and more hostile 
to Lord Dunmore and treating him with ill-disguised 
contempt, his family arrived at Williamsburg, 
the Right Honorable, the Countess of Dunmore, 
Lord Fincastle, and the Ladies Catherine, Augusta, 
and Susan Murray. 

Here was a pretty 
state of things, dis- 
tinguished strangers 
arriving on Virginia soil 
and Virginia on the eve 
of a political earthquake. 
However, there was but 
one way out of the dif- 
ficulty, hospitality and 
hostility both claiming 
the hour, hostility must 
step aside for a while. 
There was time for all 
things. There must be 
an illumination of course ; and if the ladies smiled 
as they entered Williamsburg in their chariot drawn 
by six white horses, they must receive acclamations 
in return. 

They did smile. They made a most agreeable 
impression. The Virginia Gazette declared next day 
that the arrival of the countess gave inexpressible 
pleasure, that she was a very elegant woman, that 

Lord Dunmore. 

238 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

her daughters were " fine, sprightly girls," and that 
" goodness of heart flashed from them in every 

Before they turned into the great palace gates 
they had won all hearts. They were the guests of 
the colony. Already a herald had published a 
Court Etiquette, whose leaflets were in the hands 
of the pretty Jacqueline and Ambler girls. The 
finishing touch of courtly grace and usage was to 
be given to the high-born Virginia beauties. 

True, there was small time now to study court 
etiquette, but a little delay could not matter much. 
Whether it did or no, hospitality was the prime, 
sacred, delightful duty of the hour. 

Accordingly, the gentlemen of the House of 
Burgesses caused the Gazette to announce a " Ball 
at the Capital to Welcome Lady Dunmore and 
her Family to Virginia." The Apollo, which 
still echoed Henry's eloquence and Washington's 
appeal for Boston, was hastily made ready ; and the 
men who had been most bitter in the morning in 
their denunciation of the Port Bill bowed low in the 
evening to the Countess of Dunmore, and led her 
and her daughters with grave courtesy through the 
stately figures of the minuet. 

Presently it is all over. The last note dies upon 
the strings, the lights burn low in the coming dawn, 
parting words are whispered, -- " adieu" not " au 
revoir," and the hands that had touched with 

The Little Cloud 239 

refined finger-tips harden themselves for the gauntlet 
and the sword. No matter, now her ladyship has 
been suitably welcomed, how soon she runs away 
with her pretty daughters from the guns and finds 
refuge on the Fowey I The sooner the better, in 

But before that could happen Lady Dunmore 
had time to become immensely popular in Williams- 
burg. The Gazette was forever printing verses in 
her praise. The burgesses were welcomed to the 
handsome "palace " of their governor, the palace 
of which they were so proud, with its " imposing 
cupola, lit at night on public occasions, its ample 
green lawn in front, its artificial lakes, gardens and 
terraces." Lady Dunmore gave an afternoon re- 
ception on Queen Charlotte's birthday when her 
youngest child was christened Virginia in compli- 
ment to the Old Dominion. Everybody was invited 
at night to join the royal party in a splendid ball in 
honor of the Queen's birthday. 

" The Mimic Court at Williamsburg was exerting 
all its powers to please, but the patriots were not 
to be turned aside." They could draw the velvet 
glove over the gauntlet to pleasure a lady, but the 
gauntlet was there, nevertheless, and the gauntlet 
was of steel. 

We are impressed in reading of all this, with the 
punctilious etiquette of Williamsburg society which 
forbade the intrusion of politics into the social life. 

240 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Lord Dunmore had been regarded with suspicion 
and distrust from the moment of his arrival in 1772. 
He was perfectly aware of the feeling of the First 
Assembly which met under his administration. 
Colonel Washington was a member of that assem- 
bly, and had been present and active at the 
consultations on public affairs held in the old 
Raleigh tavern. Yet, but for the death of Miss 
Custis, he would have been Dunmore's companion 
when he journeyed to Western Virginia to purchase 

He dined with Lord Dunmore a few days before 
the couriers brought news of the Act of Parliament 
closing the port at Boston. Nobody was more 
resolute than he in denunciation of that act, and in 
support of the resolutions of " sympathy for our 
distressed fellow-subjects of Boston." At that mo- 
ment his pocket held an accepted invitation to dine 
with the governor. He did so dine, spent the even- 
ing with him, probably the night, too, for he break- 
fasted with him the next day at his farm. Two of 
Lord Dunmore's sons were students at William and 
Mary College. To all outward appearance every- 
thing was going well and smoothly among good 
friends and neighbors. 

The fast was appointed for the first day of June, 
1774. The port was to be closed on the fourth. On 
that day Washington wrote in his diary, " Fasted 
all day and went to Church." George Mason, of 

The Little Cloud 


" Gunston Hall," in the Northern Neck wrote 
home, " Please tell my dear little family that I 

Robert Carter of Nomini Hall. 

desire my three eldest sons and my two eldest 
daughters may attend church in mourning." 
His friend and neighbor, Robert Carter, ordered 

242 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

differently. " No one must go from hence to 
church or observe this fast at all." Not yet were 
all the colonists prepared to follow Washington, 
Jefferson, Henry, Mason, and Lee in defiance 
to the British Crown ! 

The fast was generally observed. The governor, 
it appears, had no power to prevent it. The time 
had not yet come when Virginia patriots, to avoid 
his interference, must hold their conferences in old 
St. John's Church at Richmond. At Williamsburg 
a sermon was preached from the text, " Help, Lord ! 
for the godly man ceaseth, for the faithful fail from 
among the children of men." 

The tea was sealed up and destroyed, and money 
and provisions ordered to be sent to Boston. The 
counties were canvassed for these, and they were 
immediately forwarded. 

The Virginia women entered with enthusiasm into 
all schemes for sending help to their " distressed 
fellow-subjects in Boston," and applauded Colonel 
Washington when he declared that " he was ready to 
raise one thousand men, subsist them at his own 
expense and march at their head to Massachusetts." 

The colonial dames packed away in lavender- 
scented chests all their imported finery, their 
" quilts " and brocades, and clothed themselves in 
homespun or in mourning, destroying or sealing 
up their precious stock of tea, and regarding with 
unfriendly eyes a certain dame who continued to 

The Little Cloud 243 

indulge in the proscribed luxury. It seems hard, 
poor lady, that she should come down in history as 
the only one who thus transgressed, " who con- 
tinued to sip her tea in her closet after it was ban- 
ished from every table," and that even her name 
and lineage should be given by an irreverent his- 
torian ! This was no other than Kate Spotswood, 
she of the fawn and blue satin gown and the silver 
hair, now Mrs. Bernard Moore! 

Even the master of "Nomini Hall " proscribed the 
tea long before he ceased, for he did cease at last, to 
toast " his Gracious Majesty, the King." " Some- 
thing," says our old friend, the tutor, " in our palace 
this Evening very merry happened. Mrs. Carter 
made a dish of Tea ! At Coffee she sent me a dish 
I and the Colonel both ignorant. He smelt, sipt, 
look'd ! At last with great gravity he asks, ' What 's 
this ? ' c Do you ask, Sir ? ' ' Poh ! ' and out 
he throws it, splash I a sacrifice to Vulcan." 

It seems the tea was restored to favor, at least in 
the army, only three years later. The colonists 
were then expressing themselves in sterner language ! 
An island was found somewhere near headquarters 
in June, 1778. Here the officers invited their 
friends in the afternoon to drink tea, and because 
the island was so beautiful and enchanting they 
honored it with the name of " Paphos." There 
" Lady Stirling, Lady Kilty, and Miss Brown, met 
his Excellency's lady, an agreeable, well-disposed, 

244 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

excellent woman. The prospect of an alliance in 
Europe had cheered every heart, and cheerfulness 
enlightened every countenance." Was it the " alli- 
ance " or the dearly loved beverage of which they 
had been so long deprived ? Thenceforward and 
until to-day the afternoon tea has been an institu- 
tion, linked with the history of our country. It 
came back on the island of Paphos, and it came to 
stay ! We hear of it once again in the annals of 
the Revolution. The Marquis de Chastellux tells us 
of another afternoon tea ! " I left Mr. Samuel 
Adams with regret, and terminated my day by a 
visit to Colonel Bland. He is a tall, handsome 
man who has been a good soldier, but at present 
serves his country and serves it well in Congress. 
I was invited to drink tea, that is, attend a sort of 
Assembly : pretty much like the conversazioni of 
Italy ; for tea here is the substitute for the rinfresca. 
Mr. Arthur Lee, M. de La Fayette, M. de Nou- 
alles, M. de Dames, etc: were of the party." In 
those days men could be found at an afternoon tea ! 




stirring events which marked every 
month in the next two years are known to 
every reader of American history: the steady 
injustice and oppression of the governor, his attempt 
to disarm the colonists by removing the powder of 
the colony from "The old Powder-horn," the quaint 
old building at Williamsburg, now cherished by the 
association for the preservation of Virginia antiqui- 
ties, the arming of the Virginians headed by Patrick 
Henry to reclaim it, the flight of poor Lady Dunmore 
and her pretty daughters to the protecting guns of 
the Fowey, finally, the flight of the governor him- 
self, followed by the curses of the people, how he 
trained his guns on Norfolk, giving Virginia her first 
experience of the horrors of war, how he hung 
about the coast to the terror of the country people, 
and finally announced his intention of sailing up the 
Potomac and capturing Mrs. Washington ! 

When the powder was stolen by Governor Dun- 
more, seven hundred citizens, calling themselves the 
Friends of Liberty, armed and met in Fredericksburg, 
ready to march to Williamsburg, and reclaim it by 


246 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

force. They were led by Hugh Mercer, Mary 
Washington's friend and neighbor. George Wash- 
ington and George Mason prevailed upon them to 
wait until Dunmore made restitution. 

These were days of fearful trial to Mary Wash- 
ington. Hitherto, on her quiet farm on the banks 
of the Rappahannock, she had known little of all 
the stir and excitement. Of the little that she heard 
she disapproved. She was a loyal subject of the 
king and a devoted churchwoman. All her early 
prejudices, traditions, ideas of duty, close ties of 
kindred, bound her to the mother country and the 
Church of England. That these should be resisted 
by her own family, her four sons, and the Mer- 
cers, Travers, and Gregorys, was an overwhelming 
disaster, to which she found it hard to be resigned. 

When war was declared and she learned that her 
son was to lead the rebellious army, her anguish 
was expressed in the most vehement language. 
" Grandma Knox ' strove in vain to console her. 
" Oh, is there to be more fighting, more bloodshed ? 
Surely it will all end in the halter," exclaimed the 
devoted mother. So bitter were her feelings at this 
moment, that when General Washington rode to 
Fredericksburg to induce her to remove into the 
town, he was doubtful in what manner she would 
receive him. He thought it prudent to pause 
at the little inn, "The Indian Queen," and re- 

The Storm 247 

That a member of the family should " put up at 
a tavern " was so tremendous an event that no one 
dared mention it to his mother. Observing an air 
of mystery in the faces of her servants, she demanded 
an explanation. " Tell George to come home in- 
stantly instantly ! ' she exclaimed ; and straining 
him to her bosom, she again commended him to 
God, and again gave him, with her blessing, to his 

On the 15th of June, 1775, he was elected 
commander-in-chief of the American forces, and 
crossed the threshold of his mother's home, and his 
own beloved Mount Vernon, on the right bank of the 
Potomac, to return no more until the war should 
end. He was in his saddle, on his way to Boston 
on horseback, when he was met by the news of the 
battle of Bunker Hill. On the second of July he 
entered Boston amid the acclamations of the people 
and the thunder of cannon, and the next day assumed 
command of the American forces. 

The anguish of his mother was shared by the wife, 
left alone at Mount Vernon. She wrote to a relative 
who censured the folly of Washington's position : 
" I foresee consequences, dark days, domestic happi- 
ness suspended, eternal separation on earth possible. 
But my mind is made up. My heart is in the 
cause. George is right ; he is always right ! ' 

" Escorted," says Washington Irving, " by a troop 
of light-horse, and a cavalcade of citizens, he pro- 

248 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

ceeded to the headquarters provided for him at 
Cambridge, three miles distant. As he entered the 
confines of his camp, the shouts of the multitude 
and the thundering of artillery, gave note to the 
enemy beleaguered in Boston of his arrival." 

Abigail Adams. 

He was already the idol of the hour ! As he rode 
along the lines, all travel-soiled and dusty, he found 
favor in every heart. The soldiers adored him 
the women as well. The elegant and accomplished 
wife of John Adams, destined to be the first Ameri- 
can lady to make her courtesy to King George after 

The Storm 249 

it was all over, wrote to her husband : " Dignity, 
ease and complacency, the gentleman and the sol- 
dier, look agreeably blended in him. Modesty 
marks every line and feature of his face. Those 
lines of Dryden instantly occurred to me : 

" < Mark his majestic fabric ! He's a temple 
Sacred by birth and built by hands divine ; 
His soul's the Deity that lodges there; 
Nor is the pile unworthy of the God ! ' 

What said the " Godlike " hero to all this ? 
Simply that he trusted that Divine Providence, 
which wisely orders the affairs of men, would enable 
him to discharge his duty with fidelity and success. 
A year later he wrote, " When 1 took command of 
the army I abhorred the idea of independence, but 
I am now fully satisfied that nothing else will 

save us.' 

Dunmore was still in the Virginia waters. He 
did not leave until the following year, in fact, his 
burning of Norfolk occurred six months after Gen- 
eral Washington left Virginia. It was constantly 
expected that he would appear upon the Rappahan- 
nock and Potomac rivers ; and Colonel George 
Mason, having moved his own family to a place of 
safety, recommended to Mrs. Martha Washington, 
who was at Mount Vernon, to leave the neighbor- 
hood also. He wrote to General Washington a 
little later : " Dunmore has come and gone, and left 

250 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

us untouched except by some alarms. I sent my 
family many miles back into the country, and 
advised Mrs. Washington to do likewise as a pru- 
dential movement. At first she said, ' No, I will 
not desert my post,' but she finally did so with re- 
luctance, rode only a few miles, and, plucky little 
woman as she is, stayed away only one night." 
During the summer of 1776, Dunmore started again 
to ascend the Potomac to lay waste "Gunston Hall" 
and Mount Vernon and capture Mrs. Washington. 
The county militia harassed him on his way, but he 
probably would have achieved his purpose but for 
a dreadful storm that threatened the safety of the 
ship. But when thunder and storm reached him 
through the cannon-balls of Andrew Lewis, one of 
which passed through his flag-ship and smashed 
his china, " Good God ! ' said Lord Dunmore, 
" has it come to this ? ' and weighing anchor, he 
betook himself to England, having injured as far 
as possible the colony he was commissioned to 



Ml^^ ARY WASHINGTON was kept in a state 
of perpetual anxiety and alarm. She was 
left unprotected by her nearest friends and 
relatives. Her son was gone, returning for no brief 
visits to his old home. Her grandson, George 
Lewis, was on his uncle's staff. Her sons were 
enlisted, all her grandsons. The Spotswood boys 
were at the front. Her good neighbor, Hugh Mer- 
cer, was a general in the army ; her near relative, 
Colonel Burgess Ball, had raised and equipped a 
regiment, and was maintaining it at his own expense. 
" All Europe was amazed when out of the forests 
and fields of the remote colonies of the Atlantic coast, 
from north to south, there stepped forth at the drum 
beat of Revolution heroes, scholars, statesmen, sol- 
diers, and chieftains who overcame its master spirits 
in debate and foiled its ablest commanders in the 
field of combat." 

Others of her neighbors and relations were already 
at the front. In many houses father and sons had 
gone ; in almost every home the first-born was a 
soldier. She had only with her the women of her 

25 1 

252 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

kindred and the good and faithful Dr. Charles 
Mortimer, -- the loyal American though English 
born, - - the able, generous physician. At his own 
expense he equipped and maintained a hospital in 
which Mary Washington and his little Maria prob- 
ably felt a deep and common interest. 

Her old age was not to be the ideal age so passion- 
ately desired by the old, of quiet serenity, " honor, 
obedience, and troops of friends." The latter she 
had, with the added pang of keen anxiety for their 
safety and welfare. She was called upon to surrender 
all she held sacred or dear, her king, her church, 
her glorious son, her kindred, her loved country 
home. She gave up all resignedly, uncomplainingly. 

It was after this triumph over her prejudices, this 
complete surrender to conviction of duty that her 
character blossomed into perfect beauty. A great 
calmness possessed her soul and shone in her face, 
a dignified resignation differing altogether from dumb 

While her son was leading the troops of his coun- 
try she was busily engaged in the industries of 
domestic life, sorting the fleece and mingling it with 
shredded silk to make long hose for her son, the 
general ; weaving substantial fabrics in the great 
cumbrous looms ; learning cunning secrets of herbs 
and leaves to dye the cloth for garments ; preparing 
balsams and lotions for the sick and needy. Her 
hands were never idle. Gathering her apron into a 

Mary Washington in the Hour of Peril 253 

spacious pocket, she walked about with the woollen 
knitting for her son's soldiers. She became, it is 
true, somewhat more silent, more reserved. The 
lines of the face lost all hint of humor. She was too 
sad for that, but never peevish or complaining. 
Descendants of her old neighbors acknowledged that 
" Mrs. Washington was somewhat stern," but add 
that she and her daughter, Mrs. Lewis, possessed 
withal a lofty graciousness of manner peculiarly their 
own. General Washington had this manner, com- 
manding deference and confidence, and forbidding 
familiarity or the smallest liberty ; although it is 
certain that neither he nor his mother were conscious 
of the impression made upon others. 

Her daughter, Betty Lewis, lived at " Kenmore," 
the elegant mansion near Fredericksburg, and en- 
treated her to come to her " to be taken care of," 
but she said, " My wants are few in this life, and 
I feel perfectly competent to take care of myself." 
She elected a home of her own very near " Kenmore," 
preferring to be independent. Thence she was 
driven every day by " old Stephen " in her phaeton 
to her farm across the river, whence she brought 
seeds and cuttings for her town garden and a jug 
of water from the spring out of which her husband 
and children had drunk. Old Stephen witnessed 
with glee her method of dealing with her overseer. 
The latter ventured one day to depart from her 
instructions, and she called him to account. 

254 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" Madam," said the agent, " in my judgment the 
work has been done to better advantage than if I 
had followed your instructions." 

" And pray, sir, who gave you the right to exer- 
cise any judgment in the matter ? ' she asked ; " I 
command you, sir ! There is nothing left for you 
but to obey." 

Fredericksburg was in the direct line of communi- 
cation between Williamsburg and the headquarters 
of the army. Couriers were perpetually passing to 
and fro, and many were the respectful letters " hon- 
ored madam " received from the great commander. 

With the coming of these couriers came repeated 
tidings of loss and defeat. She heard about the 
battle of Long Island, the long days and nights in 
the saddle ; of the defeat at White Plains ; of how 
the militia quitted and went home ; of the Princeton 
victory, where her loved neighbor, Hugh Mercer, 
died in her grandson's arms ; of the heavy loss at 
Brandywine and Germantown, where her near neigh- 
bor, the son of plucky John Spotswood, fell danger- 
ously wounded into the hands of the enemy ; of the 
misery at Valley Forge ; of Howe's occupation of 
Philadelphia ; of General Gates's great victory at 
Saratoga perhaps of the cabal against her son, 
when the victorious general was preferred by some 
to him. Perhaps her son may have written, or 
some of Morgan's borderers written to their friends, 
of their march from the Shenandoah to Boston with 

Mary Washington in the Hour of Peril 255 

" Liberty or Death ' embroidered in white letters 
on their hunting-shirts ; how General Washington 
had met them as he was riding along his lines ; 
how Morgan had saluted with the words, "From 
the right bank of the Potomac, General ! ' how the 
great commander had leaped from his horse, and 
with tears in his eyes shook hands with each one 


of them. 

" The night was dark and he was far from home ! ' : 

Or, perhaps, those watching, waiting women on the 
Rappahannock heard of how the Virginian, George 
Rogers Clarke, had begged powder and men, and 
gone out to shut and guard the back door of the 
country ; how they had waded in freezing water, fast- 
ing five days and nights, holding their muskets above 
their heads as they struggled on ; how, finally, ready 
as they were to give up, a little drummer-boy had 
mounted the shoulders of a tall soldier, and beat 
the vigorous " Charge," rallying and inspiring their 
fainting spirits. Or, it may be, that some messenger 
among the fleet couriers had come from Wheeling, 
Virginia, and could tell of Elizabeth Zane, the 
brave young girl, who volunteered to cross a plain 
under Indian fire, and bring a keg of powder from 
a house in town to save the stockade in which her 
people were hiding ; how she ran across the plain, 
found and fetched the powder, and saved the day. 

" These noble legends," says Esten Cooke, " are 

256 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

the true glories of American history ; the race lives 
in them and is best illustrated by them. It was a 
very great race, and faced peril without shrinking, 
down to the very boys and girls ; and what the long 
years of the future will remember is this heroic phase, 
not the treaties and protocols of American history." 
It was the spirit behind our little army that compelled 
events and carried it triumphantly to the glorious 

It is said that Mary Washington never tolerated 
an expression of complaint or despair during these 
trying times. She would rebuke it by saying, " The 
mothers and wives of brave men must be brave 
women.' Mr. Custis savs that, " Directly in the 

J ' * 

way of the news, as it passed from North to South, 
one courier would bring intelligence of success to 
our arms ; another, ' swiftly coursing at his heels,' 
the saddening reverse of disaster and defeat. While 
thus ebbed and flowed the fortunes of our cause, the 
mother, trusting to the wisdom and protection of 
Divine Providence, preserved the even tenor of her 
life, affording an example to those matrons whose 
sons were alike engaged in the arduous contest ; and 
showing that unavailing anxieties, however belonging 
to nature, were unworthy of mothers whose sons 
were combating for the inestimable rights of man 
and the freedom and happiness of the world. 

" During the war the mother set a most valuable 
example in the management of her domestic con- 

Mary Washington in the Hour of Peril 257 

cerns, carrying her own keys, bustling in her house- 
hold affairs, providing for her family, and living and 
moving in all the pride of independence. She was 
not actuated by that ambition for show which per- 
vades lesser minds ; and the peculiar plainness and 
dignity of her manners became in no wise altered, 
when the sun of glory arose upon her house. There 
are some of the aged inhabitants of Fredericksburg 
who well remember the matron as seated in an old- 
fashioned open chaise; she was in the habit of visit- 
ing, almost daily, her little farm in the vicinity of 
the town. When there she would ride about her 
fields, giving her orders, and seeing that they were 

" Hers was a familiar form in Fredericksburg dur- 
ing the Revolution, and its people showed her every 
respect as she walked the streets leaning on her 
cane. Devout and worshipful she appeared every 
Sabbath at church at the appointed hour ; and while 
the armies under her son were struggling for our 
freedom, the knitting needles were busily plied, and 
from her home went forth her modest contributions 
of supplies for him and his soldiers." 

Her biographers love to dwell upon her pre- 
ternatural serenity. This serenity did not serve for 
dark hours only. She was not surprised when the 
tide turned, and the waves of triumph were borne 
to her feet. When her neighbors thronged her with 
plaudits and praise of her noble son their idol 

258 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

and hers she restrained their extravagant words, 
saying quietly : " George seems to have deserved 
well of his country, but we must not praise him 
too much. George has not forgotten his duty ! " 

When the news reached Fredericksburg of the 
victories of Trenton and Princeton (in that ten 
days' campaign which Frederick the Great called 
the most brilliant in the annals of war) friends 
gathered around her with congratulations upon the 
great achievements of her son. She received them 
with calmness, observed that it was most pleasurable 
news, and that George appeared to have deserved 
well of his country for such signal services, and 
continued, in reply to the congratulating patriots 
(most of whom held letters in their hands, from 
which they read extracts), " but, my good sirs, here 
is too much flattery still George will not forget 
the lessons I early taught him ; he will not forget 
himself, though he is the subject of so much praise." 

Among the traditions which still linger around 
Fredericksburg is one illustrating her perfect calm- 
ness, trust, and self-control. George Kiger, the 
courier, having at a time of great anxiety ridden 
hard to deliver a packet to her from headquarters, 
was dismayed to see her drop it unread into one of 
her unfathomable pockets, simply remarking, "It 
is all right- -I am well assured of that." Bursting 
with curiosity, and mindful of the crowd which had 
assembled at her gate to hear the news, Kiger sug- 

Mary Washington in the Hour of Peril 259 

gested : " There may have been a battle. The 
neighbors would like to know." Thereupon she 
fished up the packet, glanced over it, and announced, 
"There has been a victory ! " adding, in the fulness 
of her heart, " George generally carries through 
whatever he undertakes." 

In relating this we are reminded of tht despatch 
once handed to General Washington while he was 
sitting for his portrait. He read it apparently un- 
moved and in silence. It announced the surrender 
of Burgoyne's army.! 

As the long years passed heavily away she had 
need of more than her own strong nature to sustain 
her. She must seek for strength not her own. " She 
was always pious," says Mr. Custis, " but in her 
latter days her devotions were performed in private. 
She was in the habit of repairing every day to a 
secluded spot, formed by rocks and trees, near her 
dwelling, where, abstracted from the world and 
worldly things, she communed with her Creator, in 
humiliation and prayer." 

This favorite resort of hers, sometimes called 
" Oratory Rock," was a spot on Colonel Lewis's 
estate, sheltered by climbing vines from observation. 
Oratory Rock was a knoll on the " Kenmore ' 
grounds which during her life overlooked the Rappa- 
hannock. The river has since forsaken its bed there, 
and flows in another channel. It was to this spot, 
made lovely by shade trees and flowing vines, that 

260 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

she repaired daily for meditation and prayer, return- 
ing home soothed and strengthened. She often ex- 
pressed her gratitude for these serene hours, and 
desired that she might be buried upon the spot, 
where she had received such consolation. 

And who can tell what heavenly messengers 

Oratory Rock. 

visited this great spirit and ministered unto her? 
At her feet flowed the Rappahannock, over which 
her son when a lad had thrown a stone. She could 
remember how his heart had swelled with pride, 
that heart now breaking at the falling away of friends, 
the desertion of soldiers, the disasters on the Hudson 

Mary Washington in the Hour of Peril 261 

and Long Island. Who can doubt that the tears 
of the great commander fell upon his mother's 
heart ! Her life had been one of anxiety, trouble, 
and strife. It was now almost over ! She knew of 
the end, only that for her it was near ! It was then 
that whispered words may have floated on the mists 
of the gathering twilight: "In the world ye shall 
have tribulations ! Fear not ! I have overcome 
the world." 



WHENEVER the women of the Revolu- 
tion appear upon the pages of history or 
romance they are invested with extraor- 
dinary virtues. Our traditions are only of maidens 
who forsook morning lessons on the harpsichord, 
and afternoon tea, and embroidery, to knit stockings 
and make plain garments ; of Abigail Adams, who 
"sought wool and flax and worked willingly with 
her own hands," of Lady Washington, dignified and 
domestic, presenting gloves of her own knitting, fin- 
ished and unfinished, as souvenirs of morning visits, 
of the angelic ministrations of the women of Mass- 
achusetts and New Jersey. " Fairer always are the 
old moons of Villon, than the moons of to-day ! ' 
Chesterfield says human nature is the same all the 
world over. Woman nature assuredly is ! 

Letter-writing in the eighteenth century was 
difficult ; the transmission of letters after they 
were written uncertain. One letter received from 
London was addressed in the fullest faith of finding 
its destination to " Major George Washington, At 


Old Revolutionary Letters 263 

the Falls of the Rappahannock or elsewhere in Vir- 
ginia." Of course, the fate of these letters was 
doubtful. They were liable to be lost or forgotten. 
They might be intercepted by the enemy. Hence 
the stilted style of many of the Revolutionary let- 
ters, the liberal use of initials to indicate proper 
names, the guarded hints, obscure innuendoes and 
vague allusions which characterize them. Letters 
were written on coarse paper, the sheet folded over to 
leave space for the address, tied across with a string, 
and sealed with wax or a small red wafer. There 
were no envelopes, no blotting-paper, no pens 
except those of home manufacture from the goose- 
quill. Two months was a reasonable length of time 
to allow for the delivery of letters. To the captain 
of some passing sloop they were generally confided, 
or to the pocket of some friend journeying at leisure 
from neighborhood to neighborhood. When re- 
ceived they were treasured, and packed away in old 
chests or the secret drawers of old secretaries, 
thence to arise to accuse or defend, or entertain the 
curious in future generations. 

A New York paper, published about seventy 
years ago, tells the history of some of these old 
letters, as follows -, 1 " In one of the thirty apartments 
of the old colonial home of the Bland family, ' Caw- 
sons,' a large party were assembled at dinner with 
the master of the house, a bachelor, and not a mem- 

1 " Bland Papers," edited by Charles Campbell. 

264 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

her of the Bland family, when a servant entered and 
informed him that the house was on fire ! 

" He received the information with great coolness 
and composure, ordered that the fire should be ex- 
tinguished, and requested his guests not to disturb 
themselves, that ( the servants would attend to it.' 

" For a time the wine continued to circulate, and 
it appears that the fire did also, for with less cere- 
mony than their host it soon drove the party out of 
doors. In the confusion books and papers were 
thrust into boxes and barrels, or into anything that 
presented itself, and carried off into a neighboring 

" The person who owned the place at the time of 
the fire has been dead many years, and the accidental 

/ J 

discovery, very recently, of the papers was made in 
the following manner. A gentleman who had lived 
on an adjoining farm was called upon one morning 
by a poor negro who requested him to purchase a 
basket of eggs. The basket was lined with manu- 
scripts which proved upon closer inspection to be 
original letters of importance from General Wash- 
ington, the Marquis La Fayette and others, ad- 
dressed to Colonel Theodoric Bland, and written 
during the Revolution." 

There was one letter, alas ! written to the wife of 
a Virginia officer whom we should be loth to judge 
by her friends. It throws a sinister light upon one 
phase of the social life in the time of Mary Wash- 

Old Revolutionary Letters 


ington, and shows us women who could trifle, dress, 
dance, and flirt with the enemies of their country 
in the darkest hour of their country's peril, fiddling 
when Rome was burning. 

- .:,***"* 

Sir William Howe. 

Sir William Howe entered Philadelphia in the 
autumn of 1777, and found "many to welcome 
him." Philadelphia was a charming old town with 
substantial colonial mansions surrounded by grounds 
of great beauty. September roses were blooming 

1 Irving's "Life of Washington." 

266 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

in those old-fashioned yards and gardens, and the 
gracious young beauties were quite willing to gather 
them for the British officers. The officers, when 
winter set in, were glad to give them all back in 
ball and concert, play and assembly. It was a light- 
hearted, happy time ! Why should they not enjoy 
it? Why, indeed ! Nobody would bleed the more 
freely or starve or freeze to death the sooner ! 

One of the letters in the egg-basket was written 
by a lady who elected to live in Philadelphia during 
the occupation of that city by Sir William Howe. 
It was addressed to the wife of an officer at the 
front. We cannot profane our fair, patriotic pages, 
but the original is accentuated by oaths quite 
worthy of Queen Bess. The ladies mentioned in 
the letter were wives and daughters of officers in the 
field. The writer tells some very, very question- 
able gossip to her " dear Patsy," and then proceeds : 
. "You see I am obeying your commands and 
writing a folio - - My God ! If this should fall into 
your husband's hands I should die ! for heaven's 
sake, my dear Patsy, don't expose me to him. Your 
own saucy epistle leads me into this scrape. Mrs. 
Beekman is still in the City. They were very un- 
genteelly treated, being turned out of their house 
to accommodate Lord Howe ; they were then 
moved into the street where my mother lives. Mr. 
& Mrs. G. are at their house in Chestnut Street. 
Notwithstanding the gratification of their wishes 

Old Revolutionary Letters 267 

was completed in the arrival of the British Army, 
they received the usual disappointment. Miss 
Roche did not marry 'S' by all accounts he is a 
vile fellow so tell M. he may have hopes. Miss 

is not shackled, tho' she has many bleeding 

hearts at her feet." (The owners of the bleeding 
hearts were British officers.) " Her vivacity makes 
her admired, though saucy ! One of her saucy bon 
mots I cannot omit. Sir William Howe, in a large 
company one evening, snatched a piece of narrow 
riband from her the moment she entered the ball 
room." (Here, alas, a covetous rat made a bonne 
bouche of the bon mot- -perhaps it is as well!) 
" Little Poll Redmond still continues as violent a 
patriot as ever, and sings f War and Washington ' 
and ' Burgoyne's Defeat ' for the British- officers, 
and with a particular emphasis and saucy counte- 
nance warbles forth ' Cooped up in a Town.' You 
have no idea of the gay winter here ; and likewise 
the censure thrown on the poor girls for not scorn- 
ing these pleasures. You, my friend, have liberality 
of sentiment and can make proper allowance for 
young people deprived of the gaieties and amuse- 
ments of life ; with Plays, concerts, Balls, Assem- 
blies in rotation courting their presence. Politics 
is never introduced. The Whig ladies are treated 
with the same politeness as the Tory ladies. I my- 
self have been prevailed on to partake of the amuse- 
ments, and I am, in raillery, styled 'rebel,' and all 

268 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

the Whig news is kept from me. I had the 'draught 
of the bill ' and Lord North's letter. I have met 
a great Hessian Yager Colonel," etc., through end- 
less gossip of which the above is the only admissi- 
ble sample ! 

It is unpleasant to observe that this letter was 
written in the winter of 1777 1778- -the winter that 
young Bartholomew Yates, a lieutenant in a Virginia 
regiment, fell into the hands of the enemy, and died 
in captivity from wounds inflicted, after his surrender^ 
by the Hessians possibly at the order of my lady's 
"great Hessian Yager Colonel," who was, according 
to her narrative, admitted to her society and confid- 
ing to her the secrets of the enemy. At that mo- 
ment many American prisoners, among them 
young John Spotswood, - - desperately wounded, 
were in Philadelphia inhumanly treated, dying from 
wanton neglect ; and General Washington indig- 
nantly threatening retaliation in his letters to Sir 
William Howe. " The English officers were re- 
ceived in the best society with more than toleration, 
and they soon became extremely popular. The 
winter was long remembered in Philadelphia for 
its gayety and its charm. There were no signs of 
that genuine dislike which had been abundantly 
displayed in Boston." It appears the ladies of 
Philadelphia ignored the well-known character of 
Sir William Howe. Also that the courtly Sir 


William, when he found a house that suited him, 

Old Revolutionary Letters 269 

knew how to make the terms for it. 1 He took 
the mansion of a rich old loyalist Quaker, John 
Pemberton (in the absence of the latter), and used 
also the elegant carriage of the Quaker for his 
parties of pleasure. When the latter returned home 
he found his property much injured, and claimed 
indemnity. Sir William curtly refused. " Thee 
had better take care ! " said John Pemberton. " Thee 
has done great damage to my house, and thee has 
suffered thy wicked women to ride in my carriage, 
and my wife will not use it since. Thee must pay 
me for the injury or I will go to thy master" (the 
King) " and lay my complaint before him." 

Sir William did take care ! He paid the money. 

That most unfortunate of men, Major Andre, de- 
vised in honor of Sir William Howe the splendid 
festival of the Mischianza during the occupation of 
Philadelphia. Our gay correspondent received an 
invitation with "the Howe arms and motto vive 
vale. The device was a setting sun with ' He shines 
as he sets, to rise again.' We went to Pool's 
bridge in carriages thence boats, barges and gal- 
leys bore us to ships of the fleet - - all gay with the 
colors of all nations and every country, and amid 
them, waving with grace and elegance, our own 
Stars and Stripes ! ' " The entertainment comprised 
a regatta, a ball, and a great display of fireworks, 
with innumerable emblems and exhibitions of loyalty 

1 "History of the Valley of Virginia," Kercheval, p. 128. 

270 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

to England. It brought together one of the most 
brilliant assemblages of the youth, beauty and fashion 
of Philadelphia, and it was long remembered that 
Major Andre was most prominent in organizing 
the entertainment, and that the most prominent of 
the Philadelphia beauties who adorned it was Miss 

Shippen, soon after 
to become the wife 
of Benedict Arnold." 
The tournament 
was between the 
" Knights of the La- 
dies of the Blended 
Rose and the Ladies 
of the Burning 
Mountain," the lat- 
ter presumably the 
daughters of the 
country about to be 
consumed ! 

The gayety was at 
its height when the 
army was encamped just across the Schuylkill at 
Valley Forge- -when the winter was one of extraor- 
dinary rigor. During that winter the army was 
often without bread, often entirely without meat. 
" Few men" had "more than one shirt, many only 
the moiety of one, and some none at all." Men 
were confined in hospitals or farmers' houses for 

Major Andre, 

Old Revolutionary Letters 271 

want of shoes. In camp there were on a single 
day 2,898 men unfit for duty because they were 
" barefoot and otherwise naked." In December 
the men built fires and sat up all night because 
there were no blankets to cover them. When a 
march was necessary their way could be traced by 
their bleeding feet. In three weeks of this time 
the army at Valley Forge lost, in its overflowing 
hospitals, hundreds, some say thousands, of men. 
Just across the river American women were bandy- 
ing idle compliments with the British and Hessian 
officers, living on delicacies of their providing, danc- 
ing at midnight routs and noonday festivals. Here, 
at Valley Forge, Martha Washington was passing 
among the sick with deeds and words of cheer, and 
the aged mother praying in solitude on the banks 
of the Rappahannock ! 

Of the lady, to whom the Philadelphia letter was 
addressed, we must, perforce, form doubtful conclu- 
sions. That she possessed a personality which found 
immediate favor in the eyes of men, there is not the 
least doubt. No man could send her an ordinary 
message of courtesy unadorned by expressions of 
gallantry. Alexander Hamilton writes of Mrs. Bland 
to her husband so warmly that he is constrained to 
explain, " I write in the style d'amitie" not d' amour, 
as might have been imagined. Says Arthur Lee, 
" Lay me at the feet of Mrs. Bland," prudently 
adding, "and in the bosom of your friendship." 

272 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Stephen Higginson of Boston eclipses them all, 
and dilates upon "the rapturous delight of one fond 
kiss from sun to sun," which it appears she had 
promised him ; doubting, however, his " capacity for 
enjoyments so excessive and for so long a time." 
Her own colonel shows himself to be very tender 
and gentle to his wife. He preserved all her letters. 
The poor lady had the smallpox, that dreadful 
scourge of the time, but she had not the greatness 
of soul to keep from the soldier in the field the 
knowledge of her disaster. She drives him wild 
with her indefinite complainings, her vague hints. 
He begs her to spare him this torture. " You say 
you have been too ill until to-day to see yourself in 
the glass. You cannot know what doubts I have 
had, what altercations in my own mind whether you 
went to the glass or the glass came to you ! ' She 
pines for the stir and excitement of the camp. He 
entreats her to feel benevolence and interest in the 
stay-at-home people. But my lady is subtle ; all 
her trouble is forsooth for his sake - - and he believes 
her. He entreats her to spare him her repining at 
bis absence, and says, " Remember 'tis for you, for 
my country, for my honor, that I endure this separa- 
tion, the dangers and the hardships of war; remember 
that America cannot be free, and therefore cannot be 
happy, without the virtue of her sons and the heroism 
of her daughters." 

We observe the lady gains her point. She joins 

Old Revolutionary Letters 273 

the Court of Madam Washington in camp. We 
observe further, as confirmation of our estimate of 
her charms, that she did not long remain a widow 
after her husband's early death. She became Mrs. 
Blodgett, and again Mrs. Curran. Having refused 
to give John Randolph of Roanoke the papers and 
family portraits belonging to her first husband, he 
wrote bitterly of her, always as "the romantic Mrs. 

With these volatile letters were others lining the 
ample egg-basket, the originals of some of the 
most celebrated letters of Washington, Jefferson, 
Patrick Henry, Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, on 
the grave issues of the hour, and all addressed to 
Colonel Bland. A very important letter was from 
Arthur Lee, a pure, incorruptible patriot, who could 
not understand how a public servant living on a 
small salary could grow rich. 

He was ambassador at the French court with 
Franklin. He left his countrymen in great straits 
for money, clothing, and provisions. He found their 
representatives abroad living in affluence. He wrote 
home, Dec. 13, 1778, "they have made immense 
private fortunes for themselves and their dependents. 
Mr. D. (Silas Deane) is generally understood to have 
made ^60,000 sterling while he was commissioner; 
his clerk, from being penniless, keeps his house 
and carriage. Dr. Franklin's nephew, Mr. Williams, 
from being clerk in a sugar bakehouse in London, 

274 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

is become a capital merchant here, loading a number 
of ships on his own account, while gentlemen of 
the first fortunes in America cannot get remittances 
or credit for their subsistence. 

Arthur Lee. 

" These things are notorious, and there are no 
visible sources of this property but the public money 
and State secrets to trade upon. 

"They will force me one day or other to bring 
the proof of these things before Congress and the 
public ; when I am sure they will shed some of their 
borrowed plumes." 

Letters from the French officers, Lafayette, Fleury, 

Old Revolutionary Letters 275 

De Francey, speak of " des lauriers que vous avez 
gagne a la defense de vofre patrie" etc. One from 
Lafayette's own hand illustrates the excellence of 
the marquis's English, perhaps quite as good as 
the American colonel's French : 


DEAR SIR: I make myself the pleasure of writing to 
you ; and wishing you an agreeable sejour at home. If you 
find there a horse distinguished by his figure as well as his 
qualities for what you think I can desire of him, I shall be 
obliged to you to send him to me ; Provided he would not 
be wicked for others or troublesome to me ; as otherwise 
they are not so dear at equal beauties and qualities. Being 
so fine as I wish him, he must be verry dear. I beg your 
pardon for this commission and I am, with great affection 
u Your most obedient servant, 


" P.S. We have not any other interesting news in camp 
but that a vessel is arrived in Portsmouth from France with 
fifty pieces of cannon and five thousand arms." 

Rather an important item to follow an order for a 

How "verry dear" the marquis's fine horse was 
likely to be we can gather from a letter written by 
the good old gentleman at " Cawsons," from which we 
have news of some old friends among the race- 
horses : " I have a new coach which stands me in 
fourteen thousand and odd pounds of the present 
money. I have sold the horse ' Aristotle ' at a 
profit and bought for your use the high-bred horse, 

276 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

f Janus-and-Silver-eye,' which cost me one hundred 
and twenty pounds." 

Another French officer who preferred his own 
English to Colonel Eland's French was Colonel 
Armand. He complains that " Congress have 
passed a resolve that have hurled me in my hart and 
reputation. I have not practise the way of making 
friend to me in congress, for I thought such way 
below the charactere of an honest man, and now 
God know but I shall trayed to justify myself by 
myself." Another letter exhibits Washington's 
stern ideas of honorable warfare, contrasting sharply 
with some well-remembered methods in later days. 

" I am informed that the liberty I granted the 
light dragoons to impress horses has been horridly 
abused and perverted into a plundering scheme. 
I intended nothing more than that the horses 
belonging to the disaffected, in the neighborhood 
of the British Army, should be taken for the use 
of the dismounted dragoons and regularly reported 
to the quarter-master general that an account might 
be kept of the number of persons from whom they 
were taken in order to future settlement. You are 
to make known to your whole corps that they are 
not to meddle with the horses or other property of 
any inhabitants whatever ; for they may be assured, 
as far as it depends upon me, that military exe- 
cution will attend all caught in the like practice 

Old Revolutionary Letters 277 

Other letters relate to General Washington's 
famous order against gaming, he being certain that 
" gentlemen " that word so dear to the colonial 
Virginian " can find amusement without applica- 
tion to this vile resource attended with so many evil 
consequences." In vain did one John Hawkins 
complain of loss because of his erection " for the 
amusement of gentlemen," of four large houses of 
entertainment with billiard-tables. It was decided 
that billiards, as " a game where wagers were laid ' : 
were included in the order. 

These letters were written in times " well fitted 
to winnow the chaff from the grain." While 
Washington wrote of the falling away of the officers, 
and the desertion of thousands of men, he also 
paid more than one noble tribute to the brave and 
true men who remained with him. " Naked and 
starving as they are," he said, "we cannot enough 
admire their incomparable patience and fidelity." 

Upon Colonel Eland's election to the First 
Congress, General Washington wrote him a most 
eloquent letter in behalf of an appropriation for the 
payment of the army. The original of this grand 
letter was found in the egg-basket collection. 

" This army is of near eight years standing, six 
of which they have spent in the field, without any 
other shelter from the inclemency of the seasons 
than tents or such houses as they could build for 
themselves without expense to the public. They 

278 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

have encountered cold, hunger and nakedness. 
They have fought many battles and bled freely. 
They have done this without pay." This superb 
tribute to the men whose blood flows in the veins 
of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revo- 
lution, concludes with an earnest appeal to Con- 
gress for harmony. The jealousies already evident 
between the states filled his heart with anguish. 
He continues, " Unless our Union can be fixed 
upon this basis the removal of the local preju- 
dices which intrude upon and embarrass that great 
line of policy which alone can make us a free, 
happy and powerful people unless our Union can 
be fixed on such a basis as to accomplish these, 
certain am I that we have toiled, bled and spent our 
treasure to very little purpose" 

With this eloquent utterance we conclude our 
extracts from the half-burned letters, with which 
the poor negro's egg-basket was lined. 



IN Virginia, about to become the battle-ground 
of the Revolution, the condition of affairs was 
gloomy, humiliating, apparently almost desper- 
ate. After a war of five years the state was still un- 
fortified, unarmed, unprepared. Her strength, her 
money, her sons had been sent to fight her battles 
in the North. She had entered the war already 


loaded with debt from the Indian and French wars, 
and further depleted through her patriotic non- 
importation policy. Navigable rivers ran, at inter- 
vals of a few miles, from her interior to the coast. 
An invading fleet had but to sail up these rivers, 
to lay waste the entire country, and end all by a 
single, well-directed blow. 

Virginia was slow to appreciate the necessity of 
an armed naval force. She never desired to meet 
her enemy at sea. One of her sons declared in 
Congress, " I deem it no sacrifice of dignity to say 
to the Leviathan of the deep, c We cannot contend 
with you in your own element, but if you come 
within our limits we will shed our last drop of blood 
in their defence,' " adding " What ! Shall the great 
mammoth of the American forests leave his native 


280 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

element, and plunge into the water in a mad contest 
with a shark ? Let him stay on shore and not be 


excited by the muscles and periwinkles on the strand 
to venture on the perils of the deep. Why take to 
water where he can neither fight or swim ? ' 

But in 1775 tne Convention of Virginia directed 
the Committee of Safety to procure armed vessels 
for the better defence of the colony. 1 About seventy 
vessels were placed in service, built at the Chicka- 
hominy Navy-yard, South Ouay, and Hampton 
near Norfolk. George Mason, for the Committee 
of Safety, built two galleys and a fine battle ship, 
The American Congress, to carry fourteen guns and 
ninety-six marines. The vessels were to serve sep- 
arately for the defence of the coast, but there was 


great difficulty in obtaining sailors to man them. 
Among the seamen were faithful negroes who pur- 
chased their freedom by serving through the war. 
These ships sometimes captured sloops laden with 
supplies for the officers of the invading army. 
Luxuries intended for British officers found their 
way to rebel tables. The planters lacked many es- 
sential articles, -- food, clothing, medicines, -- but 
they had a pineapple now and then. They sent 
out their own tobacco in ships which often never 
returned, and in time most of the Virginia ships 
were either destroyed or captured. Then it was 
that John Paul Jones obtained a commission from 

1 Campbell's " History of Virginia." 

The Battle-ground 281 

Congress to " harass the enemies of the Common- 
wealth," and swept the seas. 

In January, 1781, Virginia was invaded by the 
enemy. Tarleton's cavalry carried the torch and 
sword throughout the whole James River region, 
burned houses, carried off horses, cutting the throats 
of those too young for service. They made a 
dash to the mountains and captured seven members 
of the assembly, then in session at Charlottesville, 
announcing an intention to go as far as Freder- 
icksburg and Mount Vernon. In May, Tarleton 
was confidently expected at Fredericksburg. The 
planters abandoned their homes and removed their 
families from place to place for safety. The home- 
stead was totally destroyed or pillaged, china 
pounded up, servants carried off, and every 
animal stolen or slaughtered. " Were it possible," 
said one old citizen, " I should remove my family 
to some other country, for nothing can compensate 
for the sufferings and alarms they daily experience. 
Scarce do they remain one week in a place, before 
they are obliged to abandon their shelter and seek 
an asylum from the bounty of others." The state 
was swept as by a tornado- -growing crops de- 
stroyed, plantations laid waste. The destruction of 
property was estimated at thirteen million sterling. 
So dearly did the peaceful citizens of Virginia pur- 
chase freedom for their descendants ! 

Among the stories of this prince of raiders still 

282 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

told at Virginia firesides, is one of a day when he 
made a clean sweep of everything portable on an 
old lady's plantation. Standing calmly in her door- 
way, she watched the rifling of her poultry-yard. 
One cowardly and aged Muscovy drake basely 
abandoned his harem and hid in a hedge. The old 
dame espied him just as Tarleton and his staff rode 
off. " Here, you Jim," she called to a negro lad ; 
" catch that old duck and ride for your life after 
that general. Tell him he forgot one lean old 
duck, and I send it to him with my compliments." 
" What did he say ? ' she asked the boy on his 
return. " He jes put dat old Muscovy in he 
wallet, an' he say he much obliged." 

The raids of the enemy along the navigable 
waters of Virginia became incessant. Gunboats 
would ascend the rivers, to the terror of all who 
dwelt on their banks. One of these went up the 
Pamunkey at night, and was kept from landing by 
a handful of men who fired, ran on ahead and fired 
again, and so on until the captain, believing himself 
to be in the midst of a large force on shore, and un- 
certain as to the possibility of return, hoisted a 
white flag in the moonlight and surrendered ! Then 
the captain on shore (John Otey, with only twenty 
men) was, indeed, in a dilemma ! Waiting until the 
moon went down, he ordered the crew ashore, for- 
bade any to speak, took their arms and marched 
them through the darkness to headquarters ! 

The Battle-ground 283 

A schooner on April 9, 1781, ascended the 
Potomac as far as Alexandria, landing at every 
house on the way, burning, destroying, stealing, 
loudly declaring their errand to " burn out the 
traitors, George Washington and George Mason." 

On the i 2th six armed vessels ascended the river, 
and the counties of Stafford, Prince William, and 
Fairfax became the "scene of war." Fifty miles 
from Fredericksburg, Cornwallis was encamped with 
his main body of the British army. Twenty miles 
from Fredericksburg, Lafayette was protecting, with 
his small force, the homes of the mother, wife, and 
sister of the commander-in-chief. " Before this 
letter reaches you," warned Colonel Bannister, " the 
enemy will have penetrated to Fredericksburg." 

To be brave and serene became the high duty of 
the commander's family. They must present an 
example of fortitude and courage. This was the 
obligation laid upon them by their position. Nor 
did they demand, because of this position, anything 
more than the protection accorded to all. No 
sentries or guards were posted around their dwell- 
ings, no force detailed for their special protection. 
When Mary Washington's daughter expressed alarm, 
her mother reminded her that " the sister of the 
commanding General must be an example of forti- 
tude and faith." Even the general himself could 
not repress a cry of anguish when he heard of the 
desolation of his native state. " Would to God," 

284 The Mother of .Washington and her Times 
he said, " would to God the country could rise as 


one man and extirpate Cornwallis and his whole 
band ! ' 

The general's family held their posts in calm 
silence, expressing no excitement or alarm. Tarle- 
ton's cavalry - -mounted on Virginia's race-horses 
-were dashing all over the country, and liable at 
any moment to appear wherever it pleased him. 
For Mary Washington there was no security, no 
peace, save in the sanctuary of her own bosom. 
Virginia was the battle-ground, convulsed through 
her borders with alarms ! Finally, General Wash- 
ington could bear it no longer. Despite her re- 
monstrance he removed his mother to the county 
of Frederick, in the interior of the state, where 
she remained for a short time to escape the Red 
Dragoons of the dreaded Tarleton. 

" As for our present distresses," he wrote to 
George Mason, " they are so great and complicated 
that it is scarcely within the powers of description to 
give an adequate idea of them. We are without 
money and have been so for a long time ; without 
provision and forage, without clothing, and shortly 
shall be (in a manner) without men. In a word, 
we have lived upon expedients till we can live no 

The eventful year of 1781 - -destined to bring so 
great a deliverance to the country - - brought infinite 
sorrow to Mary Washington and her daughter. 

The Battle-ground 285 

The good man and pure patriot, Fielding Lewis, 
died in January. Always too frail in health to bear 
arms, he had sent his sons to the front, advanced 
^7000 for the manufacture of arms, and so impover- 
ished himself by advances of money to the colony 
that he was unable to pay his taxes (Calendar State 
Papers, Vol. i, p. 503 ; Herrings Statutes, Vol. ix, 
p. 71). 

In the same year Samuel Washington died at his 
home, " Harewood," in Jefferson County. The 
family bond was close in Mary Washington's house- 
hold and no one was dearer than her son Samuel ! 

Washington's letters in 1780 repeat the story of 
Valley Forge. " The present situation of the army" 
(Jan. 8, 1780) "is the most distressing of any 
we have experienced since the beginning of the war. 
For a fortnight past the troops, both officers and 
men, have been almost perishing from want. The 
troops are half starved, imperfectly clothed, riotous, 
and robbing the country people of their subsistence 
from sheer necessity." In April things had not 
improved. " We are on the point of starving," he 
wrote to Reed of Pennsylvania. " I have almost 
ceased to hope. The country in general is in such 
a state of insensibility and indifference to its inter- 
ests that I dare not flatter myself with any change 
for the better." And he adds, like a sigh of hope- 
less anguish, " In modern wars the longest purse 
must chiefly determine the event." 

286 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

The English were fully cognizant of this state of 
affairs. " We look on America as at our feet," 
wrote Horace Walpole, in 1780, to Mann. 

" Poorly clothed, badly fed, and worse paid," said 
General Wayne in 1780, "some of them not having 
had a paper dollar for nearly twelve months ; ex- 
posed to winter's piercing cold, to drifting snows 
and chilling blasts, with no protection but old worn- 
out coats, tattered linen overalls, and but one blanket 
between three men ! In this situation, the enemy 
begin to work upon their passions, and have found 
means to circulate proclamations among them. The 
officers in general, as well as myself, stand for hours 
every day exposed to wind and weather among the 
poor naked fellows while they are working at their 
huts, assisting with our own hands, sharing every 
vicissitude in common with them, participating in 
their ration of bread and water. The delicate mind 
and eye of humanity are hurt very much hurt 
at their distress." 

These were the trials to which the soldiers of the 
American Revolution were subjected, and which 
those who endured to the end bore without mur- 
muring; for no stress of suffering could wring from 
their brave hearts a word of injury to the cause for 
which they suffered ! 

May the honors now so gladly awarded to those 
brave men, by those descended from them, never 
be given by inadvertence or mistake to the caitiff 

The Battle-ground 287 

host that forsook their commander in his dark 
hour ! 

The army that bore the sufferings of which so 
many have written was a small one. Few armies 
have ever shown a nobler self-devotion than that 
which remained with Washington through the dreary 
winter at Valley Forge, but the conscientious his- 
torian must not give honor equally to them and the 
mighty host of the American people who had no 
sympathy with the movement. Washington him- 
self wrote, Dec. 30, 1778, "If I were called upon 
to draw a picture of the times and of the men 
from what I have seen, heard, and part know, I 
should in one word say that idleness, dissipation, 
and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold upon 
them ; that speculation, peculation and an insatiable 
thirst for riches seem to have got the better of every 
other consideration that party disputes and quar- 
rels are the great business of the day ; whilst the 
momentous concerns of an empire, a great and ac- 
cumulating debt, ruined finances, depreciated money, 
and want of credit which in its consequence is 
want of everything are but of secondary con- 

Under these circumstances the nobility and beauty 
of the character of Washington can indeed hardly 
be surpassed. "He commanded," says Lecky, "a 
perpetually fluctuating army, almost wholly destitute 
of discipline and respect for authority, torn by the 

288 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

most violent personal and provincial jealousies, 
wretchedly armed, wretchedly clothed, and some- 
times in danger of starvation. Unsupported for the 
most part by the population among whom he was 
quartered, and incessantly thwarted by Congress, he 
kept his army together by a combination of skill, 
firmness, patience, and judgment which has rarely 
been surpassed, and he led it at last to a signal 

But while he thus held his army discontent, dis- 
trust, suspicion, the train which inevitably follows 
failure, - - possessed the minds of the people and 
embittered the hearts of those who were striving to 
serve them. The leaders were blamed for the mis- 
fortunes of the time, their ability doubted, their 
patriotism suspected. 

Thus hampered and trammelled, weak, sick at 
heart, America stretched out appealing hands to 




rebellion of the colonies had been long 
expected in France. As early as 1750, 
Turgot, before the Sorbonne, had com- 

pared colonies to fruits which only remain on 

the stem until they 

reach maturity, and 

then drop off. 
Vergennes, in con- 

versation with an 

English traveller, 

had predicted : 

" England will soon 

repent of having 

removed the only 

check that can keep 

her colonies in awe. 

They stand no 

longer in need of 

her protection. She 

will call upon them to contribute towards support- 

ing the burdens they have helped to bring on her. 

They will answer by striking off all dependence." 




290 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

France had excellent reasons for hating England. 
Her lilies had gone down again and again before the 
British flag. Despoiled by England of her Ameri- 
can and Canadian possessions, dislodged from her 
foothold in India, subjected to the espionage, and 

stung by the ar- 
rogance of her 
enemy, her policy 
was directed tow- 
ard one object, 
the rehabilitation 
of her f o r m e r 
glory at the ex- 
pense of her 
greatest rival. 1 

Louis the Six- 
teenth, young and 
was glad to shift 
all responsibility 
upon his able ad- 
visers,- - Mau- 
repas, whom he 

tolerated, Vergennes, whom he feared and respected, 
and Beaumarchais, the son of a watchmaker, author of 
"Le Manage de Figaro" and "Le Barbier de Seville," 
-whom he cordially admired and loved, and who 
had probably more influence at court than all the 

1 Edwardes's "Translations ofLemonie," p. 2,59. 


France in the Revolution 


rest put together. These were the men with whom 
Deane and Franklin labored, with varying result, for 
many years sometimes thwarted and discouraged, 
at others cheered by promises, and sustained by sub- 
stantial favors. Presents of money were given by 

Silas Deane. 

France to America, and her ports were open to 
American trading-vessels. But England had a 
vigilant ambassador at the French court, watching 
like a cat lest the plucky little mouse should ven- 
ture too far. It behooved the mouse to keep well 
in hiding. He could hope to gain an advantage 
over his enemy by stealthy diplomacy only. 

292 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

France had, early in September, 1776, sent secret 
messengers to America to ascertain the state of af- 
fairs and report to the court of Versailles. Congress 

Benjamin Franklin. 

sent Silas Deane, Benjamin Franklin, and Arthur 
Lee to plead the cause of the colonists at the French 
court, and negotiate treaties with foreign powers. 1 

Franklin, on being selected, had said to Dr. 
Rush, " I am old and good for nothing, but, as 

1 Sparks's "Diplomatic Correspondence," Vol. I, p. 5. 

France in the Revolution 293 

store keepers say of their remnants of cloth, I am 
but a fag-end, and you may have me for what you 
please;" 1 but Franklin had strong personal reasons 
for hating England. Accused once by the solicitor- 
general (Wedderburn, Lord Loughborough) of 
stealing political letters, the latter had arraigned 
him and poured upon his head all the vials of min- 
isterial wrath, branding him as a thief in the most 
fearful philippic ever pronounced against man.' 2 
" Franklin stood," says Dr. Priestly, " conspicu- 
ously erect during the harangue, and kept his coun- 
tenance as immovable as wood." He was dressed 
in a suit of Manchester velvet, which he laid aside 
and never wore after the terrible lashing of Lord 
Loughborough ; but, " Seven years afterwards, on 
the termination of the war, so triumphant to his 
own country, and so humiliating to Britain, he 
signed the articles of Peace, being then Ambassador 
at Paris, dressed in the Manchester velvet" -once 
the garment of heaviness and humiliation, now 
the royal robe of triumph ! 

He became, fortunately, a toast at the French 
court. The statesman who could write ballads and 
invent musical instruments possessed a charming 
versatility which attracted the French. How ver- 
satile he still could be, even in old age, is attested 

1 Parton's " Franklin," Vol. II, p. 166. 

2 "Lives of the Lord Chancellors of England," by Lord Campbell, Vol. VI, 
pp. no in. 

294 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

by the fact that poets, philosophers, and men of 
fashion, - -Vergennes, Voltaire, Turgot, - - nay, the 
queen herself, admired and sought him. Turgot 
described him in a line which afterwards adorned 
the snuff-boxes, medallions, and rings of the court. 
On these Franklin's head appeared, with this legend, 
Eripuit fulmen sceptrumque tyrannus^ the dignified, 
old, unpowdered head, its thin hair concealed by a 
fur cap, which yet had wisdom to guide the hand 
that " tore the lightning from heaven and the 
sceptre from the tyrant ! ' 

It was not designed by Providence that America 
should fail in her contest. Rough-hewn as her 
methods must perforce be, they were given shape 
by the hand that guides our ends. Every event 
here, every move on the chess-board in France, 
tended to the same result. One of the fifteen 
decisive battles of the world was fought at Sara- 
toga. " The Capitulation of General Burgoyne to 
Mr. Gates ' (as the English in their wrath ex- 
pressed it) turned the tide of affairs. It resulted 
immediately in the alliance with France, so long 
and ardently desired, without which this country 
might not have won independence. 

Of course, we sent post-haste to tell the good 
news of this victory to our long-suffering envoy at 
the French court. The " Capitulation to Mr. 
Gates" occurred Oct. 17, 1777; the news reached 
Franklin Dec. 4, of the same year - - nearly two 

France in the Revolution 


months afterward. But we are the last people 
who should ever lament the want of telegraphic 
service in our early history. Had such existed 
during the Revolution, we would surely this day 

General Eurgoyne. 

be sending our humble duty, with many gifts, 
to our Gracious Sovereign, his Most Sacred Maj- 
esty, Edward VII, upon his coronation. A polite 
ambassador would not be nearly sufficient. 

When Benjamin Franklin received the news he 
was quietly dining, not dreaming of any better for- 

296 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

tune than that we should be able to hold Philadel- 
phia. 1 No more dramatic scene can be imagined 
than that which took place on the evening of 
Dec. 4, 1777, when Jonathan Austin's chaise 
rapidly drove into the courtyard at Passy and 

General Gates. 

rudely interrupted Dr. Franklin's dinner-party. 
The guests, among whom were Beaumarchais, 
rushed out. " Sir," exclaimed Franklin, " is Phila- 
delphia taken ? ' " Yes, Sir," replied Austin ; and 
Franklin clasped his hands and turned to reenter 
the house. Austin cried, " I have better and 

1 Morse's " Franklin," p. 267. 

France in the Revolution 


oyne and his whole 
Beaumarchais set out 

greater news ; General Bur 
army are prisoners of war." 
with all speed to notify Vergennes, and he drove 
with such haste that his coach upset, and he dis- 
located his arm. 


It was not, however, until July 10, 1780, that 
Rochambeau wrote from Newport to Washington : 
"We are now at your command. It is hardly 
necessary for me to tell your Excellency that I 
bring sufficient cash for whatever is needed by the 
King's army." 

298 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Lafayette was holding Cornwallis at Yorktown, 
having orders from Washington that he was on no 
account to be permitted to escape. In order to 
prevent this it was necessary to have the assistance 
of the French fleet. To this end he despatched a 
frigate to Cape Henry, where De Grasse was 

De Grasse. 

expected to touch, urging him to come up Chesa- 
peake Bay as soon as possible to clear the James 
River and blockade the York. This word was 
received by De Grasse, who arrived with his fleet of 
twenty-eight ships of the line in Chesapeake Bay 
on Aug. 30, 1781. 

The French forces then joined Washington in a 

France in the Revolution 299 

rapid march to Virginia, having made a feint of 
attacking New York, and thus deceived Sir Henry 
Clinton. Well for us there were no railroads or 
telegraph wires in those days ! Washington and his 
allies were not discovered until they were almost in 
front of Cornwallis. 

The march through Philadelphia was a species of 
triumph. And now who more ready than the Tory 
ladies to welcome and applaud ! " The windows 
were rilled with ladies waving handkerchiefs and 
uttering exclamations of joy. The ragged Conti- 
nentals came first with their torn battle-flags and can- 
non ; and the French followed in gay white uniforms 
faced with green to the sound of martial music. A 
long time had passed since Philadelphia had seen 
such a pageant ; the last resembling it had been the 
splendid Mischianza festival, devised by poor Andre 
in the days of the British occupation," 1 and enjoyed, 
alas, by these same ladies, while these same Conti- 
nentals were starving and perishing with cold ! 

They were equal to any situation, these Philadel- 
phia ladies ! The first duty of woman, according 
to them, was to make herself agreeable to the pow- 
ers that be the heroes of the hour. Said Wash- 
ington Irving, " The beauties who had crowned the 
British Knights in the chivalrous time of the Mis- 
chianza, were now ready to bestow wreaths and 
smiles on their Gallic rivals." 

1 Irving's "Life of Washington." 

300 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Fifteen days after the arrival of the allied forces 
successful assaults were made upon the enemy's re- 
doubts, Washington putting the match to the first 
gun; and on Oct. 17, Cornwallis, after having 
made unsuccessful efforts to relieve his position and 
to escape by water, proposed a cessation of hostilities 

' - 

' - 

Lord Cornwallis. 

and the appointment of commissioners to settle 
terms of surrender. On Oct. 19, in pursuance 
of articles of capitulation, drawn by Vicomte de 
Noualles and Colonel Laurens, representing the 
allies, and Colonel Dundas and Major Ross, repre- 
senting the British, Lord Cornwallis surrendered; 
the English marching out to the tune, "The 
World's Turned Upside Down," - a fact which was, 

France in the Revolution 301 

no doubt, accepted by the brave Cornwallis as the 
only solution to the turn events had taken. 

"The work is done and well done," said Wash- 
ington as he heard the long shout of the French and 
the Americans. 

To Maurepas, in France, Lafayette wrote : - 

" The play is over, Monsieur le Compte, the fifth 
act has just come to an end." 1 

" It's all over now," said our old friend Lord 
North,- heartily relieved, we may well believe, to be 
rid of all the bother. 

At midnight on Oct. 23, 1781, Philadelphia 
was startled by the cry, " Cornwallis is taken." 
And on Oct. 24, on motion of Mr. Randolph, 
it was resolved, " That Congress at 2 o'clock this 
day go in procession to the Dutch Lutheran 
Church and return thanks to Almighty God for 
crowning the allied arms of the United States and 
France with success by the surrender of the whole 
British Army under the command of the Earl of 
Cornwallis." 3 

But not with joy and gratitude was the news re- 
ceived by old Lord Fairfax, who had given Washing- 
ton his first opportunity in life. He had liked the 
fifteen-year-old lad, had taught him to follow the 
hounds, and been his cordial friend as long as he 
fought for the Crown. Lord Fairfax, "the Nimrod 

1 Tower's "Lafayette," Vol. II, p. 455. 2 Bancroft, Vol. Ill, p. 430. 
3 Journals of Congress, Vol. Ill, pp. 679-682. 

302 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

of Greenway Court," was now ninety-two years old. 
" When he heard," says the irrepressible Parson 
Weems, " that Washington had captured Cornwallis 
and all his army, he called to his black waiter : 
' Come, Joe ! Carry me to bed, for it is high time 
for me to die.' 

" Then up rose Joe, all at the word 

And took his master's arm. 
And thus to bed he softly laid 
The Lord of Greenway farm. 

"There oft he called on Britain's name 

And oft he wept fall sore. 
Then sighed, ' Thy will, O Lord, be done,' 
And word spake never more." 

The old Royalist's heart had broken with grief 
and disappointment. 

But how was the aged mother to hear the news ? 
Would her heart break with the sudden access of 

Washington himself despatched a courier to her 
with the news of the surrender. She raised her 
hands to heaven and exclaimed with the deepest 
fervor : - 

"Thank God! Thank God! All the fighting 
and killing is over. The war is ended and now we 
shall have peace and happiness." 

Mindful of her age her son would not come to 
her suddenly and unheralded. He could not come 



France in the Revolution 303 

immediately. He had to attend to the distribution 
of ordnance and stores, the departure of prisoners, 
the embarkation of troops, to say nothing of the 
courtesies of the hour such as the selection of two 
beautiful horses as a present to De Grasse, who did 
not sail until Nov. 4. He was then summoned in 
haste to Eltham, the seat of his old friend Colonel 
Bassett, there to fold his tender arms around the 
dying form of Parke Custis and receive his last 
breath. Years before, he had thus comforted the 
sweet young sister, " Patsy Custis," in her last hour. 

Martha Washington, the mother, and the wife 
and four children of Parke Custis (who was only 
twenty-eight years old) were all at Eltham, and with 
them Washington remained until the last tribute of 
respect was paid to the deceased. And that he 
might comfort his wife and help the young widow, 
he then and there adopted George Washington 
Parke Custis and Nellie Custis into his family. 

From Eltham he proceeded immediately on 
pressing business with Congress at Philadelphia, and 
not until Nov. 1 1 did he reach Fredericksburg. 





was a great day when the news came 
to Fredericksburg " Cornwallis has sur- 
rendered." "With red spurs" rode the 
couriers that carried the glad tidings, and the hearts 
of the people leaped with joy. Twenty-eight British 
captains had stepped forth from the lines and sur- 
rendered as many colors to the ragged Continentals. 
With instinctive magnanimity the conquerors had 
given a banquet to their captive officers, and \Vash- 
ington had saluted Cornwallis with a toast to the 
British army. Thus the brave honor the brave. 
And now - - courtesies all rendered, the sword 
sheathed, the guns stacked the great commander 
was coming home, first to his mother, attended by 
a brilliant retinue of French and American officers. 
When the soldier of his people laid his country's 
freedom at his mother's feet, if ever in this world a 
foretaste of heavenly joy be given to human beings, 
to Mary and George Washington alike this was the 
hour. Savs Mr. Custis : 


( After an absence of nearly seven years, it was, 
at length, on the return of the combined armies 


" On with the Dance 


from Yorktown, permitted to the mother again to 
see and embrace her illustrious son. So soon as he 
had dismounted, in the midst of a numerous and 
brilliant suite, he sent to apprise her of his arrival, 
and to know when it would be her pleasure to re- 
ceive him. No pageantry of war proclaimed his 
coming, no trumpets sounded, no banners waved. 
Alone and on foot, the Marshal of France, the 
general-in-chief of the combined armies of France 
and America, the deliverer of his country, the hero 
of the age, repaired to pay his humble duty to her 
whom he venerated as the author of his being, the 
founder of his fortune and his fame. For full well 
he knew that the matron would not be moved bv 


all the pride that glory ever gave, nor by all the 
'pomp and circumstance' of power. 

"The lady was alone, her aged hands employed in 
the works of domestic industry, when the good news 
was announced; and it was further told that the 
victor chief was in waiting at the threshold. She 
welcomed him with a warm embrace, and by the 
well-remembered and endearing name of his child- 
hood ; inquiring as to his health, she remarked the 
lines which mighty cares and many trials had made 
on his manly countenance, spoke much of old times 
and old friends, but of his glory not one word." 

But old Fredericksburg tells a story so character- 
istic that we are fain to accept it. Her neighbors 
had gathered at her door to congratulate her ; but 

306 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

before they spoke with her, an orderly dashed up, 
dismounted, touched his three-cornered hat and 
said, " Madam ! his Excellency will be here within 

George Washington Parke Custis. 

the hour." " His Excellency ! Tell George I shall 
be glad to see him," replied the dame ; and turning 
to her wide-eyed ebony maid, she said, " Patsy, I 
shall need a white apron." 

"On with the Dance" 


Old Fredericksburg threw its hat in the air and 
declared that the " Indian Oueen " should be swept 
and garnished, and the Fredericksburg beauties tread 
a measure with those gay foreigners. This thing of 
" belonging to the country " was all very well, but 
George Washington was a Virginian what was more, 
he was master-mason in the 
Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, 
and a Fredericksburg boy out 
and out. " But would Madam 
Washington come to a ball ? ' 
Ay, she would. Her " danc- 
ing days were pretty well 
over," but she would " be 
glad to contribute to the 
general happiness." 

But here we give place 
again to Mr. Custis, for he 
had his story at first hands. 


" Meantime, in the village 
of Fredericksburg, all was joy 
and revelry ; the town was crowded with the officers 
of the French and American armies, and with gen- 
tlemen from all the country around, who hastened 
to welcome the conquerors of Cornwallis. The citi- 
zens made arrangements for a splendid ball, to which 
the mother of Washington was specially invited. 
She observed that, although her dancing days 
were pretty well over, she should feel happy in 

The Chair used by George 
Washington when Master 
of Fredericksburg Lodge. 

308 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

contributing to the general festivity, and consented 
to attend. 

"The foreign officers were anxious to see the mother 
of their chief. They had heard indistinct rumors re- 
specting her remarkable life and character ; but, form- 
ing their judgments from European examples, they 
were prepared to expect in the mother that glare and 
show which would have been attached to the parents 
of the great in the old world. How they were sur- 
prised when the matron, leaning on the arm of her 
son, entered the room ! She was arrayed in the very 
plain, yet becoming, garb worn by the Virginian lady 
of the olden time. Her address, always dignified 
and imposing, was courteous, though reserved. She 
received the complimentary attentions, which were 
profusely paid her, without evincing the slightest 
elevation ; and, at an early hour, wishing the com- 
pany much enjoyment of their pleasures, observing 
that it was time for old people to be at home, retired. 

"The foreign officers were amazed to behold one 
so many causes contributed to elevate, preserving 
the even tenor of her life, while such a blaze of glory 
shone upon her name and offspring. The European 
world furnished no examples of such magnanimity. 
Names of ancient lore were heard to escape from 
their lips ; and they observed that, ' if such were 
the matrons of America, it was not wonderful the 
sons were illustrious.' 

"It was on this festive occasion that General Wash- 

"On with the Dance" 309 

ington danced a minuet with Mrs. Willis " (one of 
the Gregory girls). " It closed his dancing days. 
The minuet was much in vogue at that period, 
and was peculiarly calculated for the display of 
the splendid figure of the chief and his natural 
grace and elegance of air and manner. The gal- 
lant Frenchmen who were present --of which fine 
people it may be said that dancing forms one of the 
elements of their existence- -so much admired the 
American performance as to admit that a Parisian 
education could not have improved it. As the even- 
ing advanced, the commander-in-chief, yielding to 
the gayety of the scene, went down some dozen 
couples in the contra-dance, with great spirit and 

But General Washington's dancing days did not 
close with the Fredericksburg ball. Mr. Custis did 
not know. Two years later Lieutenant McAllister 
wrote from Baltimore : " A ball was given to his 
most excellent Excellency by the ladies of this 
town. A brilliant collection assembled to enter- 
tain him, and the illustrious Chief led and mingled 
in the joyous dance." 

The commanding general had perceived the wis- 
dom of introducing into the camp life some relax- 
ation and amusement, as the Arctic explorer arranged 
a series of theatricals when starvation threatened his 
ice-locked crew. In the year and month in which 
Washington wrote his most despairing letter to 

310 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

George Mason, there were frequent balls in the 
camp at Middlebrook. " We had a little dance 
at my quarters," wrote General Greene to Colonel 
Wadsworth in March, 1779 (the dark hour), "His 
Excellency and Mrs. Greene danced upwards of 
three hours without once sitting down." 

Bishop Meade, in his intense admiration of Wash- 
ington and his not less intense abhorrence of danc- 
ing, reasons that these reports of the great chief could 
not be true. They were undoubtedly true. Wash- 
ington, although habitually grave and thoughtful, was 
of a social disposition, and loved cheerful society. 
He was fond of the dance, and it was the boast of 
many Revolutionary dames that he had been their 
partner in contra-dances, and had led them through 
the stately figures of the minuet. 

Little Maria Mortimer, aged sixteen, was at the 
Fredericksburg ball. Betty Lewis followed the 
party later to Mount Vernon. For Maria a great 
dignity was in store. Her father, Dr. Charles 
Mortimer, issued invitations at the ball for a great 
dinner to the distinguished strangers the next day 
but one, and his wife (Sarah Griffin Fauntleroy), 
being too ill to preside, that honor fell to the 
daughter of the house. 1 

The house, an immense pile of English brick, 
still stands on the lower edge of the town, facing 
Main Street, with a garden sloping to the river, 

1 "Maternal Ancestry of Washington," by G. W. Ball. 

"On with the Dance' 311 

where Dr. Mortimer's own tobacco ships used to 
run up to discharge their return English cargoes by 
a channel long since disused and filled up. 

The mansion was hastily put en fete which 
meant swept walks, polished floors, and abundant 
decoration of flowers and evergreens. The running 
cedar of Virginia, with its plumy tufts of green, lent 
itself gracefully to outline doors and windows, en- 
circle family portraits, and hang in festoons from the 
antlers of the deer in the hall. 

The table, as little Maria described it in after 
years, groaned with every delicacy of land and 
water, served in massive pewter dishes polished 
until they shone again. 

The chief sat beside the master of the house at 
the long table, although at his own house his place 
was always at the side of the table among his guests. 
Little Maria "with her hair craped high" was taken 
in by the Marquis Lafayette, or Count d'Estaing, or 
Count Rochambeau, they were all present, and 
the little lady's heart was in her mouth, she said, 
although she danced with every one of them at the 
ball nay, with Betty Lewis's Uncle George himself! 

To this dinner the doctor, of course, invited Mrs. 
Washington, but equally, of course, she did not come, 
her appearance at the ball having been an extraordi- 
nary effort intended to mark her sense of the im- 
portance of the occasion which was intoxicating the 
whole country with joy. 



IN 1784 the Marquis de Lafayette returned to 
Virginia "crowned everywhere," wrote Wash- 
ington to the Marchioness de Lafayette, " with 
wreaths of love and respect." He made a visit to 
Mount Vernon, and thence, before he sailed for 
France, he went to Fredericksburg to pay his hom- 
age to the mother of Washington. A great crowd 
of citizens and old soldiers thronged the town to do 
him honor. One of the old soldiers from the coun- 
try had heard much of a new character who had fol- 
lowed the armies, and had lately appeared in Virginia 
- active, prevalent, and most successful ! This rustic 
determined to see Lafayette, " pick-pocket " or no 
"pick-pocket." Had he not two hands! Oneshould 
never let go a firm grasp on the watch in his own 
pocket. Finally he succeeded, after pressing through 
the throng, in reaching the general. In his enthu- 
siasm at being greeted so warmly by the great 
marquis, he seized with both hands Lafayette's 
friendly grasp, and as he turned away clapped 
his hand upon his watch-pocket. It was empty ! 



Lafayette and our French Allies 313 

There is no doubt- - not the least- -that the honest 
man never thought his honors too dearly bought. 

Escaping from all these good people so keenly 
and cordially enjoyed by the warm-hearted marquis, 
he found Betty Washington's son to act as sponsor 
and guide lest he should have been forgotten! 
to visit the mother of his friend. He wished to 
pay his parting respects and to ask her blessing. 

"Accompanied by her grandson," says Mr. 
Custis, " he approached the house ; when the young 
gentleman observed, ' There, sir, is my grand- 
mother.' Lafayette beheld, working in the garden, 
clad in domestic-made clothes, and her gray head 
covered in a plain straw hat, the mother of his hero! 
The lady saluted him kindly, observing, ' Ah, Mar- 
quis ! you see an old woman ; but come, I can make 
you welcome to my poor dwelling, without the 
parade of changing my dress.' 

"The Marquis spoke of the happy effects of the 
Revolution, and the goodly prospect which opened 
upon independent America ; stated his speedy de- 
parture for his native land ; paid the tribute of his 
heart, his love and admiration of her illustrious son. 
To the encomiums which he had lavished upon his 
hero and paternal chief, the matron replied in her 
accustomed words, ' I am not surprised at what 
George has done, for he was always a very good boy.' 

"In her latter days, the mother often spoke of 
' her own good boy/ of the merits of his early life, 

314 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

of his love and dutifulness to herself; but of the 
deliverer ot his country, the chief magistrate of 
the great republic, she never spoke. Call you this 
insensibility? or want of ambition? Oh, no! her 
ambition had been gratified to overflowing. She 
had taught him to be good ; that he became great 
when the opportunity presented, was a consequence, 
not a cause." 

Would that we could record naught but reward - 
long life, honor, and happiness- - to every one of 
our brave allies who came to us in our extremity. 
But, alas ! Fortune held in her closed hand these 
gifts for some --for others disgrace, the dungeon, 
the guillotine ! 

Louis XVI was overjoyed at the eclat won 
by the French arms in America. When Rocham- 
beau presented himself at court the young king re- 
ceived him graciously, and said to him, " I have 
read in the Commentaries of Caesar that a small 
army, commanded by a great general, can achieve 
wonders, and you are a proof of it." 

Lafayette threw himself with ardor into the stir- 


ring military life of his own country, and came back 
to us in 1824 to find his path strewn with flowers 
by Daughters of the American Revolution ; and 
Daughters of the American Revolution but a few 
months ago crowned his statue with the same 
laurels with which they crowned the adored 
Washington ! 

Lafayette and our French Allies 3 1 5 

Great riches and honor were heaped upon the 
Comte de Vergennes. He was given a position 
which brought him an income of 60,000 francs. 
Afterwards the Empress of Russia as reward 
made him Knight of the Order of the Holy Ghost, 
with 100,000 francs ! A serene, very honorable 
and comfortable old age was Fortune's gift to our 
friend Vergennes. 

And Beaumarchais, who poured money into our 
empty treasury from his own full horn-of-plenty, 
Beaumarchais, the artist, dramatist, politician, mer- 
chant, who set all Paris wild with his " Mariage de 
Figaro," of whose wit and satire and mischievous 
subtlety our translations give us no idea, Beau- 
marchais must needs ruin himself by spending 
1,000,000 livres on a gorgeous edition de luxe of Vol- 
taire, and yet more than that on French muskets. 
He died of "no particular disease," say his biogra- 
phers, " at sixty-nine years." So Fortune for him 
had a long life and a merry one, and riches of which 
he made a noble use. 

We all know the fate of the pleasure-loving young 
king, the husband of the beautiful and accom- 
plished Marie Antoinette ! America, perhaps, owes 
little to him, but she remembers that little, and 
can mourn for the bitter hour that ended his mis- 
guided life. 

But ungrateful, indeed, would she be did she cease 
to remember Marie Antoinette ! Well may we call 

316 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

our beautiful buildings and graceful fashions after 
her name. Many years after she had bent her 
lovely head with such courage to the guillotine, 
Paine wrote, " It is both justice and gratitude to say 
that it was the queen of France who gave the cause 
of America a fashion at the French Court." " Dites- 
moi" she had said in parting from Lafayette, " dites- 
moi de bonnes nouvelles de nos bons Americans,, de nos 
cher Republicans" little dreaming, poor lady, that 
" she \vas giving the last great impulse to that revo- 
lutionary spirit which was so soon to lead her to 
misery and death." 

For one more of the Frenchmen who served us 
one who was a loyal friend in the field and a traitor 
at the fireside --the stern Nemesis holds a strange 
immortality. The secret manuscript which for one 
hundred and twenty-five years has passed from hand 
to hand among Virginia women ; which was known 
to and partially quoted by Bishop Meade ; which is 
known to-day by many who gave, like him, a prom- 
ise never to print the whole of it, contains the story 
of a young nobleman's infamy- -told that he may 
be execrated by women, the names implicated kept 
from publication that the innocent descendants may 
not suffer. " Sed quid ego h<ec nequicquam ingrata re- 
voho ? It is vain to lament that corruption which 
no human power can prevent or repair." 



PEACE was not declared until March 3, 1783. 
In the meanwhile the armies must be kept in 
camp, regularly drilled, and ready at a mo- 
ment's notice for action. The American army was 
encamped at Verplanck's Point ; that of Count de 
Rochambeau - -alas, for the honor and peace of one 
household !- -at Williamsburg. The brilliant cam- 
paign in Virginia attracted immense interest abroad. 
Every ship brought strangers to visit the camp, 
artists, writers, military men. Washington begins to 
be sensitive about our meagre facilities for entertain- 
ing these visitors. "We have nothing to offer," he 
deplores, "except whisky hot from the still, --and 
not always that, --and meat with no vegetables," 
etc. There was always plenty of Virginia hickory 
nuts ! They appeared at every meal. They saved 
many a day and redeemed many a slender breakfast, 
dinner, and supper. The commander-in-chief seems 
to have striven to make them fashionable by devot- 
ing himself to their consumption. 

M. de Broglie came to Virginia in 1782, bearing 
letters of introduction to General Washington from 


318 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Benjamin Franklin, letters "rendered doubly agree- 
able," said the general, " by the pleasure I had in 
receiving them from the hands of such an amiable 
and accomplished young gentleman." M. de Broglie 
kept a journal which found its way to the columns 
of the Courier des Rtats Unis, and was translated by 
a Boston literary journal. The impression made 
upon this "amiable and accomplished young gentle- 
man " presents an interesting portrait of Washington 
in the year succeeding the surrender, and also per- 
mits our curtain to fall upon a charming picture of 
the ancestors of the sons and daughters of the 
American Revolution. 

M. de Broglie says: "I found the American 
Army encamped in a place called Verplanck's Point. 
There were six thousand men who, for the first 
time during the war, were well armed, well drilled, 
well kept, and camped under tents of a regular 
form. I passed along its front with pleasure, 
astonishment and admiration. All the soldiers ap- 
peared to me fine, robust and well chosen. The 
sentinels well kept, extremely attentive, and suf- 
ficiently well placed under arms, contrasted so com- 
pletely with the crude idea I had formed of these 
troops, that I was obliged to repeat to myself sev- 
eral times that I was indeed seeing this army that 
formerly had no other uniform than a cap upon 
which was written ' Liberty.' 


" I pressed M. de Rochambeau, who received me 

In Camp and at Mount Vernon 319 

with kindness, to add that of making me acquainted 
with Washington. He assented ; and the day after 
my arrival, he went with me to dine with this famous 
man. I gave him a letter from my father ; and, 
after a slight ' shake handy he was kind enough to 
say a thousand flatteries and polite things to me. 
Here is his portrait, which I have formed from what 
I have been able to see of him for myself, and from 
what the conversations which I have had with re- 
gard to him, have taught me : 

" The General is about forty-nine years of age ; 
he is large, finely made, very well proportioned. 
His figure is much more pleasing than the picture 
represents it. He was fine looking until within 
about three years; and, although those who have 
been constantly with him since that time say that 
he seems to them to have grown old fast, it is un- 
deniable that the General is still fresh, and active 
as a young man. 

" His physiognomy is pleasant and open ; his 
address is cold, though polite ; his pensive eye is 
more attentive than sparkling ; but his countenance 
is kind, noble and composed. He maintains, in 
his private deportment, that polite and attentive 
manner which does not offend. He is the enemy 
of ostentation and vain-glory. His manners are 
always equable ; he has never shown the least tem- 
per. Modest even to humility, he seems not to 
estimate himself duly ; he receives with good grace 

320 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

the deference paid to him, but rather shuns than 
courts it. His society is agreeable and pleas- 

J ^3 

ing. Always serious, never constrained ; always 
simple, always free and affable, without being 
familiar, the respect which he inspires never becomes 
painful. He talks little in general, and in a very 
low tone of voice; but he is so attentive to what 
is said to him, that you are satisfied that he un- 
derstands you, and are almost willing to dispense 
with a reply. This conduct has often been of ad- 
vantage to him in various circumstances ; no one 
has more occasion than he to use circumspection, 
and to weigh well his words. He unites to an 
unalterable tranquillity of soul, a fine power of judg- 
ment ; and one can seldom reproach him for a little 
slowness in determination, or even in acting, when 
he has formed his decision. His courage is calm 
and brilliant. An excellent patriot, a wise, virtu- 
ous man - -one is tempted to grant him all qualities, 
even those which circumstances have not permitted 
him to develop. Never was there a man more 
fitted to lead the Americans nor one who has 
evinced in his conduct more consistency, wisdom, 
constancy and reason. 

" Mr. Washington has never received any com- 
pensation as General ; he has refused such, as not 
needing it. The expenses of his table are alone 
made at the expense of the State. He has every 
day as many as thirty people at dinner, gives good 

In Camp and at Mount Vernon 321 

military receptions, and is very attentive to all the 
officers whom he admits to his table. It is, in 
general, the moment of the day when he is most 


"At dessert, he makes an enormous consumption 

of nuts, and, when the conversation amuses him, he 
eats them for two hours, ' drinking healths,' accord- 
ing to the English and American custom, several 
times. This is called toasting. They begin always 
by drinking to the United States of America ; after- 
wards to the King of France, to the Queen, and 
success to the arms of the combined army. Then 
is given, sometimes, what is called a sentiment ; for 
example, 'To our success with our enemies and the 
ladies ! ' ' Success in war and love ! ' 

" I have toasted several times with General Wash- 
ington. On one occasion I proposed to him to 
drink to the Marquis de Lafayette, whom he looked 
upon as a son. He accepted with a smile of benevo- 
lence, and had the politeness to propose to me in 
return that of my father and wife. 

" Mr. Washington appears to me to keep up a 
perfect bearing towards the officers of his army; he 
treats them very politely, but they are far from 
growing familiar with him ; they all wear, on the 
contrary, in presence of this General, an air of re- 
spect, confidence and admiration." 

For two years after the surrender, General Wash- 
ington was confined to the routine of camp life. 

322 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

We read of no visits to Fredericksburg or to 
Mount Vernon. If he made them, they were brief 
and uneventful. 

His mother lived quietly in her new home, never 
fulfilling her intention of returning to " Pine Grove " 
across the river. She was now seventy-eight years 
old, but remembered by the children of her old neigh- 
bors as bright, active, and alert keenly interested 
in everything around her. Charming granddaugh- 
ters were growing up in Betty Lewis's " Kenmore " 
home. One of these doubtless our " little Bettv," 

, ^ 

-accompanied General and Mrs. Washington on 
their joyful return home to Mount Vernon from 
Annapolis, whither the general had gone to resign 
his commission. Mr. Lossing has preserved a letter 
from little Miss Lewis: 

' I must tell you what a charming day I spent at 
Mt. Vernon with Mama and Sally. The Gen- 
eral and Madame came home at Christmas Eve, and 
such a racket the servants made ! They were glad 
of their coming. Three handsome young officers 
came with them. All Christmas afternoon people 
came to pay their respects and duty. Among these 
were stately dames and gay young women. The 
General seemed very happy and Mrs. Washington 
was up before daybreak making everything as agree- 
able as possible for everybody. Among the most 
notable callers was Mr. George Mason of Gunston 
Hall, who brought a charming granddaughter with 

In Camp and at Mount Vernon 323 

him about fourteen years old. He is said to be one 
of the greatest statesmen and wisest men in Vir- 
ginia. We had heard much of him, and were de- 
lighted to look in his face, hear him speak, and take 
his hand which he offered in a courtly manner. He 
has a grand head and clear gray eyes is straight, 
but not tall, and has few white hairs, though they 
say he is about sixty years old." 

The little hero-worshipper ! And so reverent to 
her illustrious uncle and his wife, with no underbred, 
familiar claiming of kinship with " the General and 

Even before peace was declared, our French allies 
circulated large sums of gold and silver coin, which 
put to flight the wretched paper currency of our 
country, and in an incredibly short time quantities 
of French and English goods were imported. "Our 
people," laments an old writer, " suddenly laid aside 
their plain, home-manufactured clothing. Fine 
ruffles, powdered heads, silks and scarlets decorated 
the men, while the most costly silks, satins, chintzes, 
calicoes and muslins decorated our females. Superb 
plate, foreign spirits, and wines, sparkled on the 
sideboards, and as a necessary consequence the peo- 
ple ran in debt, and money was hard to raise." 

General Washington's family resumed their old- 
time habits of living. They rose early, breakfasted 
at half-past seven, dined frugally at two, retired 
early. " Those who come to see me," said the 

324 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

general, " will always find a bit of mutton and a glass 
of wine. If they expect anything more, they will be 
disappointed." Mary Washington and the mistress 
of Mount Vernon never laid aside their simple 
customs, dress, and occupations. They seemed to 
have formed, said Washington Irving, "an inveterate 
habit of knitting" in and out of the drawing-room. 
Walking about her garden, Mary Washington's 
fingers held the flying needles. The results were 
sent to somebody less fortunate than herself. 
Martha Washington kept up her " inveterate habit " 
long after she became the first lady in the land, pre- 
senting unfinished gloves of her own knitting to her 
friends to " finish and wear for my sake," thus 
delicately suggesting a plan by which the gift could 
be rendered more valuable, and at the same time 
inspiring her gay young visitors with something of 
her own spirit of industry. 

Inestimable to women is the value of such occu- 
pation ! For them the curse has been transmuted 
into a golden blessing. There could have been no 
necessity for Mary and Martha Washington to em- 
ploy themselves so diligently in sewing and knitting. 
The hands were numerous enough around them 
among the negroes and humbler classes for all such 
work. But they held an old-fashioned creed : that 
the human hand - - that wonderful mechanism - - was 
created for some useful purpose ! In their day the 
hand had not claimed for its beauty the cunning 

In Camp and at Mount Vernon 325 

skill of the "artist manicure." The instructed 
hand made laces, and manipulated the spinet and 
harp, but it made garments as well. Let none call 
the love of needlework useless its results not 
worth the while ! Knitting may not be the highest 
use for one's beautiful hands, but it surely ranks 
with the highest when it ministers to those who 
suffer ! And even as an innocent occupation it is 
not to be despised. All such work is better than 
dull vacuity or lack of interest in domestic life. A 


passion tor such things is not the worst passion 
that can possess a woman's soul. Besides, needle- 
work is an admirable sedative to the nerves. Mary 
Washington's knitting helped to relieve her mind of 
its tension when circumstances seemed so unfortu- 
nate and discouraging. Perhaps the Queen of Scots 
sometimes forgot the uncertain tenure by which she 
held her beautiful head because she had a passion 
for embroidery and was, every day, expecting new 
flosses and filoselles from France to finish some- 
thing very lovely which she had commenced. 

But knitting was not with Mary Washington and 
her daughters a matter of sentiment or resorted to 
as a nerve cure. It was simply the natural expres- 
sion of pure benevolence. There was no money 
to buy - - nothing imported to be bought. The 
destitution of the soldiers pressed heavily upon the 
hearts of these good women. Constantly employed 
every moment of their waking hours, they might 

326 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

hope to achieve something to add to that " cap upon 
which was written ' Liberty.' The Phrygian cap 
might indeed protect the fervid brain of the patriot, 
but could in no wise comfort his weary feet ! 

American women have never failed in time of 
war to give the work of their own hands. With 
the wife of another Virginia commander, Mary 
Custis Lee, knitting was as inveterate a habit in 
the time of America's Civil War as it was with her 
great-grandmother, Martha Washington, in the war 
of the American Revolution. 

Many were the soldiers w r ho were comforted in 


body and heartened in spirit by the gifts of these 
noble women all the more because they were 
wrought by their own gentle hands. 



MARY WASHINGTON lived long enough 
to witness the crowning triumph of the 
colonies, when the proud country that 
had sought their subjugation was compelled to 
receive at its Court their accredited Minister. In 
1785 John Adams of Massachusetts was chosen for 
this delicate position. He had nominated Washing- 
ton for Commander-in-chief of the Colonial troops, 
he had belonged to the committee which reported 
the immortal Declaration of Independence, he had 
been sent in 1777 as commissioner to the Court of 
Versailles. Moreover, he was the husband of the 
accomplished, patriotic Abigail Adams, "a woman 
of fine personal appearance, good education and noble 
powers of mind." A fitting pair this to represent 
the new land that had just won a place among the 
nations ! 

In the drawing-rooms of the late queen the 
arbiter of social usage for nearly a century Maj- 
esty stood upon a raised platform surrounded by 
the lights, larger or lesser, of her court. A few 
ladies only were admitted at a time. These might 


328 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

not clasp the outstretched hand of Majesty. On 
the back of their hands her own was laid for an 
instant, and something like a butterfly touch of the 
lips was permitted. Then to the long line of lesser 

stars were cour- 
tesies rendered, 
and the " pre- 
sented' lady 
passed on and 

Not so did 
George the 
Third and his 
queen receive. 
Their guests 
were assembled 
in the drawing- 
room, and the 
king, accompa- 
nied by Lord 
Onslow, passed 
arou nd first ; 
the queen, as 
her rounds in a 

John Adams. 

much as two hours later, made 
similar fashion. 

Mrs. Adams wrote to her sister a description 
of the first drawing-room attended by the first 
American Minister to the Court of St. James. 
The company assembled in silence. The king 

Mrs. Adams at the Court of St. James 329 

went around to every person finding small talk 
enough to speak to them all- -"prudently speaking 
in a whisper so that only the person next you can 
hear what is said." King George, Mrs. Adams 
thought, was " a personable man," but she did not 
admire his red face and white eyebrows. When he 
came to her, and Lord Onslow said, " Mrs. Adams," 
she hastily drew off her right-hand glove ; but to 
her amazement the king stooped and kissed her 
on her left cheek ! There was an embarrassed 
moment for Royalty must always begin and end 
a conversation. George the Third found only this 
to say : 

" Madam, have you taken a walk to-day ? " 

" No, Sire." 

" Why ? Don't you love walking? ' 

Her impulse was to tell him frankly that all the 
morning had been given to attiring herself to wait 
upon him, but she informed him only that she 
was " rather indolent in that respect," upon which 
he allowed her the last word, bowed, and passed on. 
In about two hours it was Mrs. Adams's turn to be 
presented to the queen. "The queen," she writes, 
" was evidently embarrassed. I had disagreeable 
feelings, too. She, however, said: 'Mrs. Adams, 
have you got into your house ? Pray, how do you 
like the situation of it ? ' She, too, yielded the 
last word, passing on after an earnest assurance 
that the American lady had nothing to complain of. 

330 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

"She was in purple and silver," said Mrs. Adams 
in her letter to her sister. " She is not well-shaped 
nor handsome. As to the ladies of the Court, 
rank and title may compensate for want of personal 
charm, but they are in general very plain, ill-shaped 
and ugly but don't you tell anybody that I said so !" 

From the letter of our Minister's wife, we per- 
ceive that fashions in dress had not changed materi- 
ally since the days when Jenny Washington, Betsy 
Lee, and Aphia Fauntleroy danced in Westmore- 
land. The classic David had not yet laid down 
his stern laws. The train was still looped over an 
ornate petticoat, and all supported by an enormous 
hoop ; the hair still " craped high," surmounted 
with feathers, flowers, lace, and gauze. Mrs. 
Adams, when all ready to set forth to the drawing- 
room, found time while waiting for her daughter 
to describe the presentation gowns to her sister in 
Massachusetts : 

" My head is dressed for St. James, and in my 
opinion looks very tasty. Whilst my daughter is 
undergoing the same operation I set myself down 
composedly to write you a few lines. I directed 
my manteau-maker to let my dress be elegant, but 
plain as I could possibly appear with decency. Ac- 
cordingly it is white lutestring covered and full- 
trimmed with white crape festooned with lilac ribbon 
and mock point lace, over a hoop of enormous extent. 
There is only a narrow train of about three yards in 

Mrs. Adams at the Court of St. James 331 

length to the gown waist, which is put into a ribbon 
upon the left side, the Queen only having her train 
borne. Ruffle cuffs for married ladies, a very dress 
cap with long lace lappets, two white plumes and a 
blond-lace handkerchief. This is my rigging. I 
should have mentioned two pearl pins in my hair, 
earrings and necklace of the same kind. 

" Well, methinks I hear Betsy and Lucy say, 
' What is cousin's dress ? ' White, my dear girls, 
like your aunt's, only differently trimmed and orna- 
mented, her train being wholly of white crape and 
trimmed with white ribbon ; the petticoat, which is 
the most showy part of the dress, covered and 
drawn up in what are called festoons, with light 
wreaths of beautiful flowers ; the sleeves white crape, 
drawn over the silk with a row of lace around the 
sleeve near the shoulder, another half-way down 
the arm, and a third upon the top of the ruffle, 
a little flower stuck between ; a kind of hat cap 
with three large feathers and a bunch of flowers ; 
a wreath of flowers upon the hair. Thus equipped 
we go in our own carriage, and Mr. Adams and 
Colonel Smith in his. But I must quit the pen in 
order for the ceremony which begins at 2 o'clock." 

Mrs. Adams was not one whit " flustered ' or 
nervous on this occasion unique from the circum- 
stances attending it. The embarrassment was all on 
the part of Royalty. Very sustaining must be the 
consciousness of belonging to the victorious party ! 



WASHINGTON IRVING speaks of the 
first winter at Mount Vernon as being 
of such intense cold that " General Wash- 
ington could not travel through the snows even as 
far as Fredericksburg to visit his aged mother." 
General Dabney H. Maury, in his " Recollections 
of a Virginian," says : " After Washington's military 
career ended he used to go frequently to Fredericks- 
burg to visit his venerable mother, and his arrival 
was the occasion of great conviviality and rejoicing. 
Dinner parties and card parties were then in order, 
and we find in that wonderful record of his daily 
receipts and expenditures that on one of these occa- 
sions he won thirty guineas at Lop-loo ! Probably 
it was after this night that he threw the historic dollar 
across the river, the only instance of extravagance 
ever charged against him." A dinner-party was 
usually given to him on his arrival at the old 
"Indian Queen ' : tavern. On these visits Wash- 
ington laid aside his state, and- -near his boyhood's 
home- -was a boy again. 

Judge Brooke, for many years chief justice of 

The First Winter at Mount Vernon 333 

Virginia, who had served as an officer in the legion 
of" Light-horse Harry," used to tell of having fre- 
quently met Washington on his visits to Freder- 
icksburg after the Revolutionary War, and how 
" hilarious ' the general was on those occasions 
with "Jack Willis and other friends of his young 
days." Judge Brooke remembered one dinner 
given to Washington at the " Indian Queen " tavern 
at which he was present. " A British officer sang a 
comic song. Washington laughed till the tears 
rolled down his cheeks, and called upon the singer 
to repeat it." 

" Light-horse Harry ' Lee was always a great 
favorite in the Washington family. He was, per- 
haps, the only person outside of it " never under the 
influence" according to Irving "of that rever- 
ential awe " which Washington is said to have in- 
spired. His summer home " Chatham ' adjoined 
Mary Washington's Stafford farm ; he was often in 
Fredericksburg at the "Indian Queen' banquets. 
Nobody could take such liberties with the great 
man. The son of his " Lowland Beauty " stepped 
right into the place she had left vacant. 

The general one day asked " Light-horse Harry ' 
if he knew where he could get a good pair of car- 
riage horses. 

"I have a fine pair, general but you can't get 

"Why not?" 

334 T ne Mother of Washington and her Times 

" Because," said the saucy young soldier, " you 
will never pay more than half price for anything, 
and I must have full price for my horses." 

Silence broken at last by the bantering laugh 
of a pet parrot caged near them. The general took 
the assault upon his dignity in great good part. 
" Ah, Lee, you are a funny fellow ! " said he ; " even 
the birds laugh at you ! ' 

" But," adds Irving, " hearty laughter was rare 
with Washington. The sudden explosions we read 
of were the result of some ludicrous surprise." 

Still we do read of this rare laughter- -this will- 
ing yielding to merriment on the occasions of his 
visits to his mother. 

All of which goes to prove, first, that Washing- 
ton did not, as has been charged, neglect to visit her 
during the four intervening years between the decla- 
ration of peace and his own appointment to the 
Presidency, and, secondly, that these were happy 
visits, notwithstanding his mother's age and infirmi- 
ties happy for her, otherwise, they could not 
have been happy for him. 

It is not the purpose of the compiler of this story 
of Mary Washington and her times to answer all of 
the witless charges that thoughtless we will not 
say malignant persons have made regarding Wash- 
ington's relations with his mother ; but one of these 
stories found its way to the columns of a newspaper, 
and perhaps we may check its echo, now going on 

The First Winter at Mount Vernon 335 

from lip to lip, to the effect that after he became 
President, Washington denied to his mother a home 
in his temporary residence. He entered that resi- 
dence late in the spring of 1789. His mother died 
in August of that year. She was ill when he 
parted from her, and he was prostrated for many 
weeks with a malignant carbuncle. He was not 
recovered when she died ; he could not go to her. 
It is not possible that she wished to exchange the 
repose of her own home and the ministrations of 
her loved physician and only daughter for the stir- 
ring life of a noisy metropolis. 

And as for her noble son if the splendor of his 
record be more than the eyes of his critics can bear, 
they are at liberty to veil it for their own comfort 
by the mists of their own imaginings. They will 
never persuade the world that the purest and best 
man this country ever saw could be capable of 
neglecting an aged and infirm woman and that 
woman the mother who bore him, and to whom 
he owed all that made him greater than his 

I should doubt the authenticity of any letter, 
tending to lower our estimation of Washington's 
character. William Smyth of Cambridge Univer- 
sity, England, in his " Lectures on History " (Lec- 
ture 34, p. 436), warns us that one volume of 
" Washington's Letters ' is spurious and not to 
be respected. I have not seen this assertion of 

336 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Smyth's repeated, but he could not have made 
it without authority. 

As to the neglect of his mother during the last 
five years of his life a charge that has been made 
more than once --there can be no foundation what- 
ever. He never realized his dream of rest and 
leisure. The one ice-bound winter succeeding the 
declaration of peace was his only moment of re- 
pose. He found his own affairs much involved 
so much so that Congress wished to aid him in 
restoring them. But he refused to accept any gift 
or any compensation for his eight years of service. 
He complained of the enormous burden of the 
letters he must answer. He found small time for 
the arboricultural pursuits in which he was so much 
interested. Hardly had he planted his balsams, 
ivies, and ornamental trees of various kinds, when 
trouble in the country claimed his attention. He 
writes of his longing for privacy and leisure, and 
remembers that his time to enjoy them must be 
short. Still he plants " elms, ash, white-thorn, 
maples, mulberries, horse-chestnuts, willows and 
lilacs," and writes that his trees grow fast, as if 
they knew him to be getting old and must make 
haste if they wish ever to shelter him ! 

All this was brought to an end by the very seri- 
ous discords in the country as to the Constitution 
adopted by the Confederation of States. The story 
of these discords is a long one, and has been ably 

The First Winter at Mount Vernon 337 

told elsewhere. Washington's feelings were in- 
tensely excited by the news that the insurgents of 
Massachusetts had exhibited such violence that the 
chief magistrate had called out the militia of the 
state to support the Constitution. " Good God ! ' 
he exclaims, " who besides a Tory or a Briton could 
have predicted this? It was but the other day we 
were shedding our blood to obtain the constitutions 
under which we now live, constitutions of our own 
choice and making, and now we are unsheathing 
the sword to overturn them. If any man had told 
me this three years since, I should have thought him 
a bedlamite, a fit -subject for a mad house ! ' 

The troubles ended in a call for another con- 
vention of which he was, reluctantly, compelled to 
accept the place of delegate. To serve intelligently 
he went into a course of study of the history of 
ancient and modern confederacies, and has left 
among his papers an abstract of their merits and 
defects. He must now learn a new trade ! He 
must become a wise and learned statesman. 

One can easily see the impossibility of long and 
frequent visits to his mother at Fredericksburg. 
The man was bound, hand and foot. He longed 
for repose, and at first rebelled against further 
public duty. " Having had some part in bringing 
the ship into port," he said, " and having been 
fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark 
again upon a sea of troubles." 

338 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

The country ordered otherwise. There was a 
quarrel in the family, and a serious one, and the 
" Father of his Country ' must help to settle it. 

Virginia had done what she could. She was rich 
and powerful, and the weaker states reckoned them- 
selves at a disadvantage beside her. Virginia was 
the foremost advocate for equality and union, and 
was willing to make sacrifices to secure it. 

She nobly surrendered to the Federal govern- 
ment a great principality. All the country beyond 
the Ohio, now forming the states of Ohio, Indiana, 
and Illinois, belonged to Virginia. Says Esten 
Cooke : " Her right to it rested upon as firm a 
basis as the right of any other Commonwealth to its 
own domain, and if there was any question of the 
Virginia title by charter, she could assert her right 
by conquest. The region had been wrested from 
the British by a Virginian commanding Virginia 
troops ; the people had taken ' The oath of alle- 
giance to the Commonwealth of Virginia,' and her 
title to the entire territory was indisputable. 

" These rights she now relinquished, and her 
action was the result of an enlarged patriotism and 
devotion to the cause of Union." 

Thus she aided in the settlement of the ques- 
tions before the great Convention of 1788, of which 
Washington was made President. All the great 
men of the country were present at this convention, 
and the result was that the Constitution of the 

The First Winter at Mount Vernon 339 

United States went into operation, and Washington 
was elected President by a unanimous vote. 

In the face of these vital matters no one cer- 
tainly not his brave, good, reasonable mother 
could blame him that the hours of the days were 
all too short for the great work he had to do. 



ONCE more, and once only, do we hear of 
Mary Washington in connection with her 
son. We read that her home filled her 
time and heart ; that she, like her son, sowed and 
planted, arranging her garden as the seasons succeeded 
each other, delighting in her personal work therein. 
Who can measure the charm, to a woman, of even a 
small garden ! How often has she not " heard the 
voice of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool 

^j ^j 

of the day!" She was born in a garden. Her first 
perception of beauty was awakened by her flowers. 
With these for companionship, who can be utterly 
wretched ? Not all unhappy w<as the prisoner, after 
his " Picciola " had cleft the stone masonry of his 
dungeon ! 

We love to think of Mary Washington in the 
old garden ! Nowhere so sweetly, so gently, can a 
wearied body fulfil its day, until God wills the re- 
lease of the soul. 

On the 1 4th of April, 1789, Washington received 
at Mount Vernon official intelligence that he had been 
chosen President of the United States. He at once 


The President's Last Visit to his Mother 341 

prepared to go to New York and enter upon the 
duties of his office, but before doing so he set out 
on the evening of the same day, mounted on his 
horse and attended by his favorite body-servant, 
Billy Lee, to visit his mother in Fredericksburg. 
He found her feeble in body but bright-minded and 
cheerful, and he informed her that he had been 
elected President, and had come to bid her an 
affectionate farewell before assuming his office. "So 
soon," he said, " as the public business which must 
necessarily be encountered in arranging a new gov- 
ernment can be disposed of, I shall hasten to Vir- 
ginia " but here she interrupted him and said : 
" You will see me no more. Age and disease warn 
me that I shall not be long in this world. I trust 
in God I am somewhat prepared for a better. But 
go ; fulfil the high destinies which Heaven appears 
to assign you ; go, and may Heaven's and your 
mother's blessing be with you always." This was 
the last meeting between the mother and the son. 

But that her heart followed him through the 
marvellous events of the next few weeks none can 
doubt. They helped her to ignore the shadow 
hanging over her. She was cheerful, strong, and 

She decided to make two visits, one to the family 
of Charles and the other to the widow and orphan 
children of Samuel Washington. The families met 
together to talk gratefully and affectionately of the 

The Mother of Washington and her Times 

illustrious one whom the country was loading with 
honors. He had left Mount Vernon on the i6th 
of April. An entry in his diary records his feelings. 
" I bade adieu to Mount Vernon and domestic felicity 
and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and 
painful sensations than I can express, set out for 
New York with the best disposition to render ser- 
vice to my country in obedience to its call, but with 
less hope of answering its expectations." 

To his friend, General Knox, he wrote : " Integrity 
and firmness are all I can promise. These, be my 
voyage long or short, shall never forsake me, 
although I may be deserted by all men ; for of the 
consolations which are to be derived from these 
under any circumstances, the world cannot deprive 


This was the spirit in which he met the extraordi- 
nary honors which awaited him. " His progress to 
the seat of government was a continual ovation. 
The ringing of bells and roaring of cannonry pro- 
claimed his course through the country. The old 
and young, women and children, thronged the 
highways to welcome him." Governors met him 
at the frontiers of their respective states. Cavalry 
assembled to escort him. The throngs gathered as 
he advanced until a mighty host followed him. 
Arches of flowers and evergreens, and triumphal 
arches of laurel, spanned the paths he travelled. 
When he reached the banks of the Delaware he 

The President's Last Visit to his Mother 343 

must have recalled that midnight passage over the 
ice-bound river at Christmas, a representation of 
which hangs in almost every humble hostelry in 
the country. How different his feelings then and 


Over the stream which flows through 
Trenton a bridge was decked with laurel, with the 

Washington's Reception at Trenton. 

inscription, "The Defenders of the Mothers will be 
the Protectors of the Daughters." The matrons 
were there ; and the young girls, crowned with gar- 
lands, strewed his way with flowers, singing of their 
love and gratitude. No king on his way to corona- 
tion ever received such a heartfelt ovation ! 

And so on and on until at Elizabeth Point 

344 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

he entered the barge with white satin canopy, which 
was to bring him to New York. Parties of ladies 
and gentlemen followed the barge singing paeans of 
welcome. In his diary that night he records, "The 
display of boats, the songs, the instrumental music, 
the decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon, the 
loud acclamations filled my mind with sensations as 
painful (considering the reverse of this scene which 
may be the case after all my labors to do good) as 
they are pleasing." 

For, after all, he was a sad man. He had sur- 
rendered his soldier's dream of home and peace. 
He had parted with his aged mother, and knew 
that he could not minister to her in her last few 
months of life. He was too great a man to permit 
such things as these - - applause, laurel, songs, salvos 
of artillery - - to fill his heart or even his imagina- 
tion with pleasure. 

She heard it all ! Doubtless her mental com- 
mentary was her old refrain : " This is too much 
praise ! George has only done his duty." 

The world still shares- -still marvels at the 
worship of Washington then and now. As Lecky 
says, " He entered the scene as only a conspicuous 
member of the planter aristocracy, his mind not 
quick or original, no brilliancy of wit, entirely 
without the gift of eloquence, with few accomplish- 
ments, no language except his own, nothing to 
dazzle or overpower." Moreover, he had not a 

The President's Last Visit to his Mother 345 

university training at home or abroad, and no 
foreign travel to enlarge his vision. His was the 
splendid triumph of character character inherited 
and fostered in the formative years of his life by a 
faithful mother. No one can read the just eulogy 
of the accomplished nineteenth-century English 
writer, without perceiving the close resemblance 
in temperament and character between the two. 
" Those who knew him noticed that he had keen 
sensibilities and strong passions ; but his power of 
self-command never failed him, and no act of his 
life can be traced to personal caprice, ambition or 
resentment. In the despondency of long-continued 
failure, in the elation of sudden success, at times 
when the soldiers were deserting by hundreds and 
malignant plots were formed against his reputation, 
amid the constant quarrels, rivalries and jealousies 
of his subordinates, in the dark hour of national 
ingratitude and in the midst of the most intoxicat- 
ing flattery, he was always the same calm, wise, just 
and single-minded man, pursuing the cause which he 
believed to be right without fear or favour or fanati- 


In short, he triumphed over all through the 
strength of a character, firm as a rock, which no 
storm could shake or dislodge. The English writer 
himself marvels at the unchallenged worship of the 
world, and he thus explains it. " He was in the 
highest sense a gentleman and a man of honour. 

346 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

It was always known by his friends, and it was 
soon acknowledged by the nation and by the 
English themselves, that in Washington, America 
had found a leader who could be induced by no 
earthly motive to tell a falsehood or to break an 
engagement or to commit a dishonourable act." 

Whatever may be the deep, underlying cause of 
the idolatry of the American people, it certainly 
inspires all classes of men. He is the star to 
which all eyes gratefully turn the wise and un- 
lettered, rich and poor. Other heroes are, and 
deserve to be, admitted into their hearts : but they 
jealously hold for him the chiefest, holiest place. 

" See here, do you expect to get to heaven ? " was 
asked of a peculiarly profane lad- -a "hard case' 
who indignantly answered : " Course I do ! Don't 
you suppose I want to see General Washington ? ' 



MARY WASHINGTON made her will 
only a year before her death, stating 
therein that she was " in good health." 
This was one of the years, during which it has been 
asserted that she was not only neglected by her son 
but that they were estranged because of her Tory 
principles ! Besides a few small bequests to her 
daughter and grandchildren, " desiring their accept- 
ance thereof as all the token I now have to give 
them," she leaves all her estate " to my Son Gen- 
eral George Washington," also that crowning 
pride of the early Englishwoman her best bed, 
bedstead, curtains, quilt, and other bed furniture. 
Long after the Englishwoman had lived in Vir- 
ginia she held her bed in the highest esteem, and 
always made special mention of it in her will. She 
came from the land where, from ancient days, the 
bed was the most important feature in the whole 
house- -made of feathers and adorned with tapestry 
or with velvets or with " cloth of gold, or mini- 
ver." In the "pane' (the forerunner of our 
"counterpane" from contre-pointe adorned with 


348 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

"drawn thread lattice work") the ambition of the 
housewife centred, and was indulged. When 
Lafayette desired to make a handsome present to 
Dr. Gait of Williamsburg, who had entertained 
him, he sent from France a set of velvet bed cur- 
tains, dark blue with ornate figuring of gold, quite 
the handsomest of the textile fabrics exhibited at our 
Centennial in New York City. 

Mary Washington bequeathed the articles in 
which she had most pride to her " Son General 
George Washington." She was then, May, 1788, 
"in good health." It appears, from an old letter, 
she once fell at her door-step and hurt her arm. 
Perhaps then she also wounded her breast, in 
which a cancerous growth appeared not long before 
her death. In those days the medical and surgical 
sciences were all wrong, if we may believe them to 
be now all right. A New York writer had said 
that more lives had been destroyed in that city 
by physicians than by all other causes whatever. 

Virginians at the school of medicine in Edin- 
burgh had organized themselves, a few years 
before, into a Virginia Society " for the protection 
of the profession against quacks and imposters who 
had degraded the profession by mingling with it 
the trade of an apothecary or surgeon ! ' An elo- 
quent petition is preserved addressed " To the 
Honourable the Council of Virginia and House 
of Burgesses," entreating that " laws be passed 

Mary Washington's Illness and Death 349 

forbidding the intrusion of pretenders into the do- 
main of the authorized practitioner, thereby dis- 
honouring the profession itself and destroying 
mankind." We can imagine the enormities com- 
mitted by the quacks and imposters when we 
observe the methods of the legitimate practitioner. 
When a man or woman sickened, the doctors sped 
the parting guest, taking from him his very life- 
blood, by cupping, leeching, bleeding, and reducing 
his strength by blistering and drenching. Nature 
was sometimes strong enough to give battle to 
doctor and disease, and even to win a victory over 
their combined forces. But in old age Nature 
prudently retired without a struggle. We hope 
much for Mary Washington from the gentle 
ministration of Betty Lewis and the indulgent 
kindness of good Dr. Charles Mortimer, also 
Betty Lewis's own testimony, one month before the 
end, of her patience and resignation. The last 
word from her lips reveals no earthly wish save the 
desire to hear from her son's " own hand that he is 
well." August 25, 1789, she was released from 
sufferings which had been borne with unfaltering 
faith and fortitude ; and on the 2yth of that month 
she was laid to rest in the spot she had herself 
chosen as her last resting-place, and over which her 
monument, erected by the women of America, now 

The President did not learn of her death in 

350 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

that day of post-riders - -until the ist of September. 
It was announced to him by his kinsman Colonel 
Burgess Ball. 

On September 13, he wrote to his sister, Mrs. 
Betty Lewis, as follows : - 

" MY DEAR SISTER : Colonel Ball's letter gave me the 
first account of my Mother's death. Since that I have 
received Mrs. Carter's l letter, written at your request, and 
previous to both. I was prepared for the event by advices 
of her illness coming to your son Robert. 

" Awful and affecting as the death of a parent is, there 
is consolation in knowing that Heaven has spared ours to an 
age beyond which few attain, and favored her with the full 
enjoyment of her mental faculties and as much bodily 
strength as usually falls to the lot of four score. 

"When I was last in Fredericksburg I took a final leave 
of her, never expecting to see her more. . . . 

u Your affectionate brother, 


Ten years later he records the death of all of his 
mother's children. September 22, 1799, he writes 
to Colonel Burgess Ball : 

"DEAR SIR: Your letter of the i6th inst. has been re- 
ceived informing me of the death of my brother (Charles). 

" The death of near relations always produces awful and 
affecting emotions under whatsoever circumstances it may 
happen. That of my brother has been long expected : and 
his latter days so uncomfortable to himself must have pre- 

1 Mrs. Charles Carter, his niece, Betty Lewis's daughter. 

Mary Washington's Illness and Death 351 

pared all around him for the stroke though (We) painful in 
the effect. 

" I was the first, and am, now, the last of my father's 
children, by the second marriage, who remain. 

u When I shall be called upon to follow them is known 
only to the Giver of Life. When the summons comes I 
shall endeavor to obey it with a good grace. 

" With great esteem and regard I am, Dear Sir, your 
affectionate serv't, 


Less than three months afterwards the summons 
came. Nothing in his life became him like the leav- 
ing it. The generation had passed away ! The stars 
of the western firmament had set. In the same year 
died Patrick Henry and George Washington ! 

Mary Washington left a noble band of grand- 
sons who worthily served their country. Bushrod 
Washington (son of John Augustine Washington), 
was soon to become justice of the Supreme Court 
of the United States. When President Washington 
went to Fort Pitt to visit the troops sent to sup- 
press the Whiskey Insurrection, it is related that 
as he passed, uncovered, down the line, every man 
poured forth the homage of his heart in words of 
devotion and loyalty, and that an escort of cavalry 
was detailed to conduct him on his homeward way. 
Dismissing this, after travelling a short distance, he 
thus addressed the officer in charge, the eldest son 
of his only sister, Betty Lewis : " George, you are 

3 5 2> The Mother of Washington and her Times 

the eldest of five nephews that I have in this army ! 
Let your conduct be an example to them, and do 
not turn your back until you are ordered." 

The five nephews were Major George Lewis, 
commandant of the cavalry ; Major Lawrence 
Lewis, aide-de-camp to Major General Morgan ; 
Howell Lewis, in Captain Mercer's troop ; Samuel 
Washington, son of Colonel Charles Washington, 
and Lawrence Washington, son of Colonel Samuel 
Washington- -the two latter light-horsemen in the 
troop commanded by Captain Lewis, the first 
troop of cavalry to cross the mountains on this 
expedition. Standing in the field under the new 
banner of their new government, were six of Mary 
Washington's descendants. The spirit of the stout- 
hearted grandmother lived in these men, and in- 
spired them in their prompt response to the call 
of their country for support of law and order. 



MARY WASHINGTON was laid by rev- 
erent hands in the spot chosen by herself 
near " Kenmore." Tradition declares 
that General Washington proposed erecting a mon- 
ument over her ashes, but was restrained by the 
assurance that the country claimed that privilege. 

If this promise was made, it was never redeemed. 
The American nation, in its reasonable gratitude, 
dedicated in almost every hamlet some memorial to 
its great commander. For her it did nothing. No 
stone or tablet for years marked her resting-place. 

Tradition loves to repeat the myth that Congress, 
which was in session at the time of her death, wore 
the usual badge of mourning for thirty days, and 
passed resolutions of respect to her memory and 
sympathy with the President. No such action was 
taken by Congress. There is no official record of 
the fact. Nor does Robert Maclay, who transcribed 
in his journal every incident of his senatorial life, 
make any mention whatever of Mary Washington. 

We delighted to call her son "a king among 
men, godlike in his virtues." We knew that he 

2 A 353 

354 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

served us for eight years in peril of life and fortune, 
unsustained by encouragement or the hope of suc- 
cess, leading a forlorn hope against a powerful 
enemy. We knew that his, more than any score of 
names, had given us the place we held among the 
nations of the earth. We knew that he himself said, 
" All that I am, I owe to my mother." 

And yet the country seemed content with toast- 
ing his name at its banquets, and left his mother's 
grave to be marked only by mouldering stones and 
noisome weeds ! The graves of her family were all 
preserved from decay. Her distinguished son lay, 
as it was fitting he should lie, in a marble sarcopha- 
gus at Mount Vernon. She had chosen for her final 
pillow, the spot where God had answered her pray- 
ers in the gift of wonderful serenity of soul, and in 
a short while God alone would have known where 
to find that spot. Brambles and weeds covered it, 
hiding, for very shame, the witness of man's ingrati- 
tude and neglect. Twice, bills were presented to 
the Congress of the United States, asking for an 
appropriation for a monument over Mary Washing- 
ton's grave. By various misfortunes the bills were 
lost. In 1830 the women of Fredericksburg banded 
themselves together to rear this monument, and were 
zealously engaged to that end when they received 
the following letter from a patriotic man of wealth 
in New York City : 

Tributes of her Countrymen 

"NEW YORK, April 1 1, 1831. 

Town of Fredericksburg, Va. 

" SIR : I have seen with the greatest interest the efforts 
making by the citizens of Fredericksburg to erect a monu- 
ment over the remains and to rescue from oblivion the 
sacred spot where reposes the great American mother, 
Mary, the mother of Washington. I feel a great interest 
that the ashes of this good American mother shall remain 
where they are, and I wish to be allowed the honor of 
individually erecting the monument, which I assure you, 
sir, shall be, in style and execution, to please the family of 
Washington and the citizens of the United States. 

" Be pleased, sir, to make this communication known to 
the Washington family and all interested, and believe me 

" Your most ob't s'vt, 


The offer was gladly accepted. Work on the 
monument was at once commenced. The hand- 
some marbles were finished, and the corner-stone 
laid in the presence of Andrew Jackson, then 
President of the United States. On this occasion 
President Jackson said : " Mary Washington ac- 
quired and maintained a wonderful ascendency over 
those around her. This true characteristic of genius 
attended her through life, and she conferred upon 
her son that power of self-command which was one 
of the remarkable traits of her character. 

" She conducted herself through this life with 

356 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

virtue and prudence worthy of the mother of the 
greatest hero that ever adorned the annals of his- 
tory. There is no fame in the world more pure 
than that of the mother of Washington, and no 
woman, since the mother of Christ, has left a better 
claim to the affectionate reverence of mankind." 

This monument was completed but never erected. 
The stone-mason and the contractor died before the 
shaft was placed on the foundation, and, soon after, 
Mr. Burrows died also. The work ceased, and the 
unfinished structure stood as the contractor left it, 
until torn down for the present finished monument. 
The non-completion of the old monument, there- 
fore, seems to have been providential, and no fault 
of the projector or contractor. During the Civil 
War between the North and the South, the guns of 
the contending armies were fired across the stones, and 
they became a prey to the vandalism of strangers. 

In 1857 Captain George Washington Ball (grand- 
son of the patriot, Colonel Burgess Ball, and his 
wife -- Frances Washington) circulated an appeal 
throughout the country, asking for donations to 
complete the monument. For eleven years Captain 
Ball worked zealously and faithfully. He desired 
to erect near the monument a noble charity, -- an 
institution of learning for young women, --but it 
seemed ordained that he should be not immediately 
successful, and in time he became discouraged. It 
was a heart-breaking disappointment to " this old 

Tributes of her Countrymen 


man eloquent," the author of the monograph so 
freely quoted on these pages. 

Finally the women of America reared a shaft over 
the desecrated spot, and by a hereditary office, held 
by six hundred of their number, provided a per- 
petual Guard of Honor over the grave of Mary, 

Mary Washington's Monument. 

the mother of Washington. The corner-stone of 
this last monument was laid Oct. 20, 1893. The 
monument- -the first ever reared by women in 
honor of a woman - - is a classic shaft of granite. 
It was dedicated by President Cleveland on May 
10, 1894, in the presence of a large concourse of 

358 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

Fredericksburg made the occasion one of rejoic- 
ing and festivity. The day was a glorious one. The 
sun never looked down upon a brighter scene, - 
garlands and festoons of flowers, " ripples of ribbons 
in the air," officers in uniform, maidens in white, 
music, and song ! There was a grand masonic ban- 
quet, and a ball. 

The procession was headed by a number of 
beautiful young women habited in black with black 
hats and sable plumes, handsomely mounted on 
horseback. The Chief Justice of the United 
States, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and 
members of the Cabinet, preceded the companies 
of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and again, beside 
the grave of this modest woman, were repeated 
words of honor and applause, than which no words 
in any language could be nobler or better deserved. 

These words -- from the citizens of her own 
town, from the senator of her state, from the 
President of the United States were for her: 
not alone as the mother of the adored Washington, 
but for the true woman " of clear, prompt and 
decided mind," the woman of courage and integ- 
rity, the " Christian woman, devout and worship- 
ful," to whom the "greatest hero that ever adorned 
the annals of history" ascribed all that had made 


him great and good. 

And very noble was the tribute of Virginia's 
honored son at the ceremonies attendant upon the 

Tributes of her Countrymen 359 

unveiling of the monument reared in her honor 
by the women of America. Said Senator Daniel: 
" She nursed a hero at her breast. At her knee 
she trained to the love and fear of God and to 
the kingly virtues, honor, truth and valor, the lion 
of the tribe that gave to America liberty and inde- 
pendence. This her title to renown. It is enough. 
Eternal dignity and heavenly grace dwell upon the 
brow of this blessed mother ; nor burnished gold, 
nor sculptured stone, nor rhythmic praise could add 
one jot or tittle to her chaste glory. Tributes to 
the lofty genius, which is the rare gift of nature, 
and to the brilliant deeds, which are the rare fruits 
of fitting opportunity, fulfil a noble function ; but 
they often excite extravagant emulations that can 
never be satisfied, and individualize models which 
few by possibility may copy. This tribute is not to 
them. It is to one who possessed only the homely 
virtues of her sex ; but what is there in human life 
that can be more admirable or bring it in closer 
proximity to the divine ? She was simply a private 
citizen. No sovereign's crown rested on her brow. 
She did not lead an army, like Joan of Arc, nor 
slay a tyrant, like Charlotte Corday. She was not 
versed in letters or in arts. She was not an Angel 
of Mercy, like Florence Nightingale, nor the con- 
sort of a hero, like the wife of Napoleon. She did 
not shine amidst the throngs which bow to the 
charms of wit, beauty and hospitality ; but in any 

360 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

assembly of the beautiful, the brilliant, the power- 
ful, or the brave of her sex, no form could awaken 
a holier sentiment of reverence than she, and that 
sentiment is all the deeper because she was the 
unassuming wife and mother whose kingdom was 
her family, whose world was her home. In the 
shadow and in the silence from day to day and 
year to year she followed the guiding star of that 
truth which tells us that ' to do that which before 
us lies in daily life is the prime wisdom.' She was 
the good angel of the hearthstone- - the special 
providence of tender hearts and helpless hands, 
content to bear her burdens in the sequestered 
vale of life, her thoughts unperverted by false 
ambitions, and all unlocking for the great reward 
that crowned her love and toil. 

" But for the light that streamed from the deeds 
of him she bore, we would doubtless have never 
heard the name of Mary Washington, and the grass 
that grew upon this grave had not been disturbed 
by curious footsteps or reverential hands. But it 
does not follow that she shines only in the reflection 
of her offspring's fame. Her virtues were not created ; 
they were only discovered by the marvellous career 
of her illustrious son. This memorial might indeed 
be due to her because of who she was, but it is far 
more due to her because of what she was. It is in 
her own right, and as the type of her sex, her people 
and her race, that she deserves this tribute stone. 

Tributes of her Countrymen 361 

" There were ten thousand Mary Washingtons 
among the mothers of the Revolution, and honor- 
ing her we honor the motherhood of heroic days 
and heroic men. It was in his character, all suffi- 
cient in every emergency, that was displayed the 
overtowering greatness of George Washington, and 
it is not doubted that this character was toned and 
shaped by his mother's hand. The principles which 
he applied to a nation were those simple and ele- 
mentary truths which she first imprinted upon his 
mind in the discipline of home. 

"Mary Washington was the 'light of the dwell- 
ing' in a plain, rural, colonial home. Her history 
hovers around it. There she was wife, mother, and 

" Home is the pure original fountain from which 
all patriotism must flow, and the stream can never 
rise above its source. As the woman is, the man is ; 
as the man and woman are, the home is ; and as the 
home, so the country. Show me refined, enlight- 
ened, virtuous, and industrious homes, and I will 
show you a good government and a great nation. 
The nation is the aggregate, the homes are the 
units ; man is the builder, woman is the inspira- 
tion. Discuss constitutions, administrations, and 
policies as we may, the outcome must depend 
upon the subsoil they spring from. Make the 
home all right, and the rest must follow. This is 
woman's mission. Our race, the youngest that has 

362 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

framed a language, moulded a constitution, and 
made a name, has recognized that mission and 
held it sacred. Other races roam the earth for 
pelf and adventure, and condescend to inferior 
connections. Our race roams the earth only to 
find the spot on which to build its homes. In- 
deed it never quits home. It carries home with 
it. Wife and child, the domestic animals and 
plants, the household goods go where it goes, 
over the stormy billows, into the wilderness, and 
even to the verge of battle. It is a beautiful legend 
of the Rappahannock that when Spotswood and 
his companions came sailing hither the air was 
made vocal by the English swallows that they 
brought with them. The stars might change, but 
they would make the skies still resonant with the 
songs of the olden homes." 

And as the ages pass may there be always some 
to make the skies vocal with the songs of the olden 
times of the Virginia she loved. 

But the " olden homes," alas, are passing away. 
Their solid masonry long resists the tooth of 
Time, but the all-destroyer, Fire, levels them at 
last. The walls fall, the stones are removed,- - let 
us hope for the building of other homes,- -finally 
the drifting earth fills the foundations, and daisies 
that "look up to God" alone remain to keep vigil. 

Pious hands preserve the old historic churches. 
Old Christ Church in Lancaster, where Mrs. Ball 

Tributes of her Countrymen 


(the " Widow Johnson ") stood with little Mary's 
sponsors in baptism, still exists ; so does Yeocomico 
church in Westmoreland, where sweet Mary Ball 
prayed to the God who never forsook her; so does 
St. George's Church in Fredericksburg, built on the 
site of " Old St. George's," where, " devout and 

The Avenue of Poplars at Nomini Hall. 

worshipful," her venerable form was never a mo- 
ment too late. 

Her last residence in Fredericksburg is tended 
by the gentle hands of a society of Virginia women. 
The garden she loved is kept " passing sweet with 
flowers." Mount Vernon is also thus kept by the 
women of the whole country. The ancient home 
of "Epping Forest" fell into ruin long, long ago. A 

364 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

cluster of old trees marks the spot where the mother 
of Washington was born. Some of the "olden 
homes" named in these pages are still standing, - 

Gunston Hall," the residence of George Mason ; 

Stratford," the home of the Lees in Westmoreland ; 

Bushfield," the home of Jenny Washington of the 
dancing-class ; " Mount Airy," where lived the pretty 
Tayloe girls. These are in good repair, and there 
are many others whose thresholds were often crossed 
by Mary Washington in her girlhood, wifehood, 
and widowhood. 

Of " Nomini Hall," where our New Jersey tutor 
taught and admired the ladies, no trace remains ; 
except the avenue of poplars which still live and 
sleep all winter, and in leafing-time nod and whisper 
to each other of those thev once sheltered who are 


sleeping on forever ! 


" In the name of God ! Amen ! I, Mary Washington, 
of Fredericksburg in the County of Spotsylvania, being in 
good health, but calling to mind the uncertainty of this 
life, and willing to dispose of what remains of my worldly 
estate, do make and publish this, my last will, recommend- 
ing my soul into the hands of my Creator, hoping for a 
remission of all my sins through the merits and mediation 
of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind ; I dispose of my 
worldly estate as follows : 

" Imprimis. I give to my son General George Wash- 
ington, all my land in Accokeek Run, in the County of 
Stafford, and also my negro boy George, to him and his 
heirs forever. Also my best bed, bedstead, and Virginia 
cloth curtains (the same that stands in my best bedroom), 
my quilted blue and white quilt and my best dressing- 

" Item. I give and devise to my son, Charles Washing- 
ton, my negro man Tom, to him and his assigns forever. 

" Item. I give and devise to my daughter Bettie Lewis, 
my phaeton and my bay horse. 

u Item. I give and devise to my daughter-in-law Han- 
nah Washington, my purple cloth cloak lined with shag. 


366 The Mother of Washington and her Times 

" Item. I give and devise to my grandson, Corbin 
Washington, my negro wench, old Bet, my riding chair, 
and two black horses, to him and his assigns forever. 

" Item. I give and devise to my grandson, Fielding 
Lewis, my negro man Frederick, to him and his assigns 
forever, also eight silver tablespoons, half of my crockery- 
ware, and the blue and white tea china, with book case, 
oval table, one bedstead, one pair sheets, one pair blankets 
and white cotton counterpain, two table cloths, six red 
leather chairs, half my peuter and one half of my kitchen 

" Item. I give and devise to my grandson, Lawrence 
Lewis, my negro wench Lydia, to him and his assigns 

" Item. I give and devise to my granddaughter, Bettie 
Curtis, my negro woman, little Bet, and her future increase, 
to her and her assigns forever. Also my largest looking- 
glass, my walnut writing desk and drawers, a square dining- 
table, one bed, bedstead, bolster, one pillow, one blanket 
and pair sheets, white Virginia cloth counterpains and 
purple curtains, my red and white tea china, teaspoons, 
and the other half of my peuter and crockeryware, and the 
remainder of my iron kitchen furniture. 

" Item. I give and devise to my grandson, George 
Washington, my next best glass, one bed, bedstead, bolster, 
one pillow, one pair sheets, one blanket and counterpain. 

" Item. I devise all my wearing apparel to be equally 
divided between my granddaughters, Bettie Curtis, Fannie 
Ball, and Milly Washington, --but should my daughter, 
Bettie Lewis, fancy any one two or three articles, she is 
to have them before a division thereof. 

The Will of Mary Washington 367 

" Lastly, I nominate and appoint my said son, General 
George Washington, executor of this, my will, and as 1 
owe few or no debts, I direct my executor to give no secu- 
rity or appraise my estate, but desire the same may be 
allotted to my devisees, with as little trouble and delay as 
may be, desiring their acceptance thereof as all the token 1 
now have to give them of my love for them. 

" In witness thereof, I have hereunto set my hand and 
seal the 20th day of May, 1788. 


" Signed, sealed and published in the presence of the 
said Mary Washington and at her desire. 




With many illustrations from photographs. 

8vo. Cloth. $2.50 

" Not the least valuable items in her book are the pictures with 
which it is lavishly provided, admirable reproductions, most of 
them, of old taverns, tavern signs and bills, stage coaches, and a num- 
ber of copies of the paintings of Mr. Henry, who has made the stage- 
coach days of the United States a special study." 

New York Tribune. 

" Mrs. Earle is no mere compiler. Her books represent original 
research, combined with a happy faculty of knowing what to tell and 
what to omit. They are not only authentic, they are interesting, full 
of human nature, and touched throughout with a delightful sense of 
humor." Chicago Tribune. 


A Book of the Sweet o 1 the Year. With many illustrations 
from photographs. 8vo. Cloth. $2.00, net 

" Every page is laden with things interesting, attractive, and curi- 
ously and effectively instructive. Mrs. Earle's knowledge of American 
local traditionary lore, as we have long since learned, is matchless." 

Booklovers 1 Bulletin, Philadelphia. 

" A treatise which will be welcomed by all lovers of gardens and 
of literature . . . for the scholarly fragrance distilled by every chapter 
of a volume that may be worthily enshrined among the classics of gar- 
dening literature." GEORGE H. ELLWANGER in the Book Biiyer. 


Garden delights which are here displayed in very truth and 
are moreover regarded as emblems. Profusely illustrated. 

8vo. Cloth. $2.00, net 





Illustrated by photographs, gathered by the author, of real 
things, works, and happenings of olden times. 

8vo. Cloth. $2.50 

"The work is mainly and essentially an antiquarian account of the 
tools, implements, and utensils, as well as the processes of colonial 
domestic industry; and it is full enough to serve as a moderate 
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its profuse and interesting pictures, its fair typography, and its quaint 
binding, imitative of an old-time sampler, should prove a favorite." 

The Dial. 

" Mrs. Earle has made a very careful study of the details of domes- 
tic life from the earliest days of the settlement of the country. The 
book is sumptuously illustrated, and every famed article, such as the 
spinning-wheel, the foot-stone, the brass knocker on the door, and the 
old-time cider-mill, is here presented to the eye and faithfully pictured 
in words. The volume is a fascinating one, and the vast army of ad- 
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With many illustrations from photographs. 

8vo. Cloth. $2.50 

" The whole work presents a complete and graphic picture of colo- 
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is doubled when it concerns the formative influences of American 
ancestry." New York Times. 

" From the scant records of colonial days Mrs. Earle has been 
enabled to make up a volume that is full of life and variety, and that 
gives an insight into the beauty and tenderness of family life even 
under the austere conditions of the seventeenth and eighteenth cen- 
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ful." New York Herald.